Sunday, December 27, 2015
Murals adorn St. Petersburg's buildings
Courtesy Linda Santoro
A mural by Derek Donnelly and Sebastian Coolidge transforms the Florida Craft Art building in St. Petersburg, Fla., into a man.
The many stunning murals painted on the fronts and sides of business buildings in St. Petersburg, Fla., have become a remarkable tourist attraction. One afternoon during a Road Scholar program, Linda Santoro, our group leader, took us on a bus tour of the murals, which ranged in style from very modern colorful designs to detailed paintings of seascapes and other Florida nature sites.
We have visited the city a number of times to enjoy the variety of art available, from Dale Chihuly and Salvador Dali to want-to-be artists painting graffiti on the walls. On a previous trip, we visited the Warehouse Arts District, which appeared to be full of rundown, vacant warehouses. What we found was that more than 100 talented artists had taken over some of the old buildings for studios and many art galleries had been opened. Given all the creative art flourishing in St. Petersburg, American Style Magazine voted it the “Number One Destination for the Arts.”
Santoro noted that graffiti is illegal but had been common here. The city graffiti police were assigned to go around to cover it up. The cover-ups also were unsightly, so painters were hired to create murals to cover the cover-ups. The popularity of the existing murals opened the doors to a rash of artists getting permission to create paintings in central St. Petersburg. It is possible that the city itself might become the largest art gallery in the country, and it will be an art gallery where the paintings can be touched.
As for graffiti? The report is that graffiti artists are respectful of the murals that now exist and do not post their work over it. One of the city’s rules is that the murals cannot double as advertisements, so they cannot be used as just another way to publicize a product.
In the September before our most recent visit, the city started the SHINE Mural Festival, where visitors could watch artists creating new murals. When we were there in November, 32 murals adorned the walls, with more being considered. While other cities such as Philadelphia — with 17 — and Miami have murals worth visiting, it appears that St. Petersburg might become the major site for this kind of art. Docent-led tours are available on Saturdays.
One mural we especially liked was by Derek Donnelly and Sebastian Coolidge on the wall of the Florida Craft Art building. Some others stand out. A little girl lies next to her Doberman on a Modern Furniture store wall. In another mural, a long-armed boy reaches across the top of the Freshly Squeezed storefront to squeeze an orange. Nikola Tesla, the genius who developed alternating current, is painted on the GeniusCentral building; another artist has painted a realistic manatee floating on a wall.
The wide variety of styles adds to the charm.
How long will they remain in the face of weather and age? Santoro said they were not intended as permanent works and could be replaced as they age.
As the bus circled through the area, we were impressed by the number of small independent breweries claiming craft beers not available anywhere else. We didn’t get the exact number, but we passed at least a dozen. Does this make St. Petersburg the artisan brew capital of Florida?
This, of course, only adds to the appeal of St. Petersburg as a major destination for tourists.