“What’s living in Venice like for you?” I recently asked a group of friends. “Life is easier here,” one said as the others nodded in agreement. “But what makes it special?” l, “A sense of community. I feel I belong to a real town that cares how it develops, has history and appreciates the arts. I especially love what they’ve done with downtown Venice?” “That’s VABI,” I immediately responded. “VABI?” they asked.

VABI stands for Venice Area Beautification, Inc. a non-profit organization located west of the North Bridge. More than 150 volunteers, with the exception of one administrative assistant, are responsible for the selection, planting, and maintenance of those large potted plants, hanging baskets and the stone fountains overflowing with flowers all along W. Venice Avenue. The green shrubs and bushes on W. Venice are maintained by the Keep Venice Beautiful committee who is under the auspices of VABI. Keep your eyes out for the sculptures sprinkled around town in unexpected places. My favorite is still the one on the corner of W. Venice and Nokomis Avenues called “Maria’s Garden.”

”VABI is committed to making the Venice area a more beautiful place to live, work and play.” says Lynn Moseley, VP and chair of the Public Art Committee. VABI’s vision is to help build community in the greater Venice area by focusing on timeless projects that provide places to walk or sit and connect with nature. People can visit VABI’s latest beautification project up-lighting the banyan trees at Heritage Park along W. Venice Avenue. Create your own park adventure; pick up a map at the VABI office located at 257 N. Tamiami Trail for all 39 Venice parks.

In fact, the beautification work that VABI does is not just limited to downtown or the parks. In 2005 VABI put out a call to local artists to create murals in specific areas of Venice similar to the mural on the rear of the Gondolier building and at Venice Theatre. Another recent example is the Founders Walkway Mural leading from W. Venice to Miami Avenue. It is a lush green wooded painting by Joseph Barron called “Healing – The Enchanted Garden.”

VABI’s magic extends even beyond the island borders. Have you ever been to the Venetian Waterway Park that runs along both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway? It’s a VABI project and a must see. New park creations are in the works right at this very moment! The Ribbons Project is an ongoing effort to connect the bike trails from city of North Port to the city of Sarasota.

One of VABI’s main fundraising events each year is hosting a Christmas Boat Bash with a front row seat to view the Christmas Boat Parade. Also, at Christmas time VABI does a great job of getting residents and businesses in the spirit by allowing locals to adopt a tree at the Arboretum for free. It makes the traditional lighting of the tree at the Arboretum a spectacular event. But don’t wait for Christmas, visit the Arboretum now where VABI currently has four sculptures on display.

All this is made possible by the generous donations of our community. Please visit the VABI website at www.vabi.org, for donor possibilities and/or volunteer opportunities. Having an organization like VABI keeping our city beautiful – is like the icing on the cake we call paradise.

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