Firehouse Cultural Center provides Ruskin community with art studios, performance and practice space, arts and cultural programming, rental opportunities, summer camps, and more

When Hillsborough County Fire Station 17 was decommissioned in 2010, the Ruskin community seized the opportunity to create a new arts and culture facility. Today, the Firehouse Cultural Center is a buzzing hive of creative activity. One of its unique programs, Clay Warriors, offers veterans the chance to work with their hands and enjoy the healing benefits of clay-based art therapy. The program was made possible with support from the Hillsborough County Arts Council.

The Firehouse Cultural Center, a nonprofit organization, opened in 2013. It offers multi-disciplinary arts and cultural programming and education for kids, teens, and adults. Inside its two buildings you'll find a theater, clay studio, kilns, and classrooms.

A wide range of live music can also be heard at the Firehouse, including jazz, blues, country, and rock performances. Theater productions geared toward kids and adults and comedy shows are also featured.

Ceramic clay art projects on a table
A collection of clay pieces created by artists of varying skill levels are on display at the Firehouse Cultural Center.

Out with the ladders and hoses, in with the trumpets and kilns

Prior to becoming the community's arts hub, the Firehouse building was a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue station. However, due to the station being built within feet of the Ruskin Inlet, and the continual risk for flooding, the new fire station was relocated roughly six blocks south from the original site.

Remnants of the old fire station can still be seen where Firehouse's former bay doors were. However, behind where those large doors once were, there is now a theater capable of seating an audience of over 200. Where the firefighters used to sleep now exists a classroom.

If you peek behind the center, in addition to beautiful murals of tropical flora on the building's exterior, you will find the former engine house's radio tower. It's currently used by Firehouse to broadcast their own station on WPHX 101.9 FM.

Executive Director Chris Bredbenner refers to the center's students, staff, and artists as the "Firehouse family." Since the doors first opened, many Ruskin residents have come to value the organization for the arts, culture, and unity it fosters.

"Art builds community. Art is community. It allows people to gather together, to individually work through their creativity, it allows them to explore new mediums," Bredbenner explained.

Clay Warriors

Firehouse's Clay Warriors program is a perfect example of artists coming together to create. The program, which is free for veterans, was made possible through a Community Arts Impact Grant from the Arts Council of Hillsborough County.

The class focuses on learning techniques to create hand-thrown pottery pieces, as well as instruction on working with potter's wheels. It is open to students of all skill levels. Since working with clay can be a type of art therapy, the program intends to provide veterans with a creative outlet while connecting them with others from similar military experiences and backgrounds.

Bill Sims joined the Navy when he was 19 and served 30 years before retiring. As a student in the Clay Warriors program, he appreciates the camaraderie he has with his fellow classmates. He also understands the importance of having social ties to other veterans.

Sims described being creative as "rewarding" and thinks other veterans would, too. "Give it a try. … You got nothing to lose, and you'll get to talk to other vets. You get to pass out information and you get to get information," Sims said.

Hillsborough County Community Arts Impact Grant

The Firehouse Cultural Center is a 2024 recipient of the Community Arts Impact Grant (CAIG). This grant program is designed to make arts and cultural opportunities more accessible for underserved populations across Hillsborough County. The grant supports geographic, ethnic, and age diversity, as well as programs that serve veterans and people with disabilities.

Community Arts Impact Grants are awarded on a competitive basis and are judged on community engagement and impact; cultural/artistic merit of project; and financial and administrative oversight.

Applications for FY25 open April 8, 2024. For more information, visit the Hillsborough County Arts Council or email

Firehouse Cultural Center is at 101 1st Ave. NE, Ruskin, FL 33570.

Image Caption: From left, Michael Erickson, Noah Capatano (back row), and Bill Sims (right) work in the Clay Warriors class as their instructor, Trish Veloso, assists a student.
Posted: 4/3/2024, 10:08:13 AM