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Art Populi: Murals Creating A New Look For St. Petersburg

Oct 4, 2016

When you think of St. Petersburg, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Time once was that answer was likely to be the Pier or the city’s  famous green benches.

Now, that answer might be murals. In the past few years more than 100 murals have been created and more are arriving all the time.

Recently the city played host to the 2nd annual “SHINE on St. Petersburg Mural Festival”. Twenty two  new murals were created for the event over the course of 10 days.

This year’s festival had a budget of roughly $100,000 . About a quarter was seed money from the city. Grants from arts related organizations made up the rest

Angela Delaplane is high in the air , on a forklift, painting the wall of Classic Architecture at 1st Avenue South and 21st Street.

“It’s going to be two octopi ,intertwined, with space in the background. It’s a metaphysical and symbolic mural,” she said.

Her eyes light up when  asked about the boom in mural creation in St. Petersburg.

“ I think it’s amazing,” she said “Hopefully Tampa jumps on the bandwagon too. St. Pete really embraces the arts. This was a perfect environment for SHINE to get started in”.

A few blocks away, city police have closed the busy intersection of Central Avenue and 5th Street. It’s not because there is an accident or maintenance project. Instead , Cecilia Lueza and her team are painting on the asphalt.

The heat is overwhelming. Lueza’s crew push themselves to finish.

The city and the festival recruited Lueza for this project after the city of  Ft. Lauderdale commissioned her to paint a busy stretch of Las Olas Boulevard in hopes of reducing the number of car crashes.

"Common Ground" by Cecilia Lueza
Credit Marc Haze

Her work can be seen in many places around Florida, but Lueza has developed a particular fondness for St. Pete.

“I don’t think there is another city with a festival like this,” she said. “ It’s truly unique!”

Helping her meet her deadline is an artist who creates using the name “Tes One”

His real name is Leon Bedore, and he is co-curator of the festival. In the years he has been in town, he’s seen the mural scene explode.

“It started with one or two murals creating a spark around the city. It became contagious, which was the hope,” He said.  “We felt if we could let art live in the city, it would become this thing. People would start looking at their buildings differently.”

Not all of the new murals are part of the two SHINE festivals. Many are the result of deals made between building owners and artists.

It was such an arrangement that brought John Vitale and his company, Vitale Brothers, to the corner of 7th Avenue North and  Dr. Martin Luther King Street.

“This is going to be a woman looking down at some black amethyst crystals, with a light illuminating her face,” said Vitale.

It’s a subtle form of advertising. The design was created by Jay Michaels. He is the Tattoo artist at the gallery.

Vitale and Michaels had to be careful. Not just any image can be put on a city wall. Ordinances prohibit signage and advertising a particular product. In the case of Black Amethyst, there is no mention of tattoos or the name of the business in the mural

Another place covered with murals is the Bloom Art Center. It might be difficult for many visitors to identify the Bloom Center by its address. It can be easily identified by drivers who use Interstate 375 to enter the downtown area. There are more than 30 murals on the Bloom Building alone. On the northwest corner of the building is a painting of a goofy- looking dude with a bald head and two different color eyes.

"Giant" by James Oleson.
Credit Marc Haze

“That is James Oleson’s  ‘Giant”’. It was painted about a little over a year ago, partially with a grant from the city of St. Petersburg,” said Mitzi Gordon. She manages the Bloom Center and is spokeswoman for the SHINE Festival.

Between creating and promoting murals, Gordon said she probably knows more about the local mural scene than any other one person. That makes her a good person to ask about her favorites.

“There is a piece by a collective called ‘Morning Breath’ that’s on Central Avenue and 20th Street. It’s yellow and has text all over it. ‘Call Now’, ‘Buy This’ but it’s not an advertisement,”.she said. “It’s an art piece appropriating that text and adding other imagery”

Another memorable one, she said, was created by Sebastian Coolidge, perhaps St. Petersburg’s most prolific mural painter. It’s called “Sam”.

"Silo Sam" by Sebastian Coolidge.
Credit Marc Haze

“As you drive I-275 North, just before you get to the 22nd Avenue North exit, on the right side, gazing over the highway is this face”.

Coolidge persuaded the owners of Carrol’s Building Materials to let him paint on an unused silo.

“I feel like he is watching over us as we come into the city or leave, I really like that one, also,” Gordon said.

While the SHINE  Festival is over, there’s a list of new murals on its website. Old murals are being painted over and new ones are being created all the time.

WUSF News invites you to contribute to our Art Populi series. Grab your phone and send us your pictures of your favorite murals in the Tampa Bay area. Tweet us @WUSF, or find us on Facebook and Instagram @WUSFPublicMedia. Make sure you use the hashtag -- #WUSFPubArt.