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Oldsmar artist thrives in a 'Wacky World'
TAMPA - An Oldsmar artist who designs colorful murals and kid-themed environments for churches, schools, restaurants and amusement parks stars in a new reality show debuting Sunday on a Christian-owned cable network. "The Wacky World of Bruce Barry" debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday on Family Net, a family-friendly cable network launched by television minister Charles F. Stanley, president of In Touch Ministries. (In the Tampa area, it's on Verizon FiOS, Channel 242). The series features the creative work of Barry, owner of Wacky World Studios in Oldsmar. Opened in 2001, Wacky World builds whimsical environments that appeal to children. Barry is a colorful character, a self-described "big kid" with an earring, beard, long blond hair and Hollywood haircut."I'm so excited because our show is so different than anything else that's out there. It's totally outside the box," he said. His cartoon sketches, or doodles, are airing as short segments between programs on the Family Net's Saturday morning block of children's programs. The "Wacky World" series will showcase the often-inspirational work of Barry, who has designed more than 100 children's ministry play and education areas at churches nationwide, including several megachurches. He has said that by bringing a "wow factor" to church buildings, attendance for youth programs can increase 35 percent to 120 percent. On the opening episode, cameras follow him as he designs two projects: a children's play and education area for an evangelical protestant church in Centerville, Ohio, and a child-friendly environment for a shelter for foster children in Brandon. Barry's work for the Fairhaven Church in Ohio is typical of the projects developed by his studio. The 4,000-member church has an active children's ministry and wanted a fun place where "learning about God is anything but boring." As part of a $7.2 million building project, Barry worked with church officials to devise a nautical theme. Children enter a building fashioned after a submarine and slide down an enclosed swirling tube to an undersea-themed room with 3-D coral and fish on the walls. The second project on the debut episode is more modest and emotional. Barry works with A Kid's Place, a 60-bed facility in Brandon that provides emergency shelter for abused, abandoned and neglected children. It's also a place where siblings suddenly thrust into the system can find temporary shelter with the hope that they can remain together when placed in a foster home. Barry adds colorful touches to a children's game room and play area as well as creating a special "tree" for them. "It was an absolute honor for me to be a part of such a special project," he says. "A Kid's Place touched my heart and really opened my eyes to the widespread suffering experienced by families in our area. I pray that my contribution to the environment at A Kid's Place impacts these children in crisis and brings them comfort in some small way." Future episodes will cover projects such as a new children's facility at Journey of Faith Church, an 18,000-square-foot building in California. Young people will enter through the door of a massive ship and stroll into a 3-D relief and sculptured jungle. Raised in central New Jersey, Barry says his father, a Disney illustrator, taught him sketching and model-making. Barry eventually became a special-effects whiz who designed animatronic gorillas and elephants for Rainforest Cafes, drew storyboards for cartoons such as "Ren & Stimpy" and painted murals for the "ET" ride at Universal Studios. His connection to Family Net comes after years of designing children's areas for churches. He has said that these colorful, themed environments get children involved in church and then their parents follow. For details on Barry, go to www.wackyworld studios.com.
Reporter Walt Belcher can be reached at (813) 259-7654.