From a distance, the bright fluorescent figures under the Boot Ranch overpass in Palm Harbor may look like another wall covered in graffiti; but, take a closer look and you will find a common theme- a shark on a skateboard, a kid on a tricycle, an old turtle on a scooter.
These images are all part of a mural titled Be Right Back by artist Stephen Palladino, the first step in Pinellas County’s attempts to minimize vandalism and increase public art.
The Board of County Commissioners and Pinellas County Transportation partnered with arts agency Creative Pinellas to create the transportation-themed mural where the Pinellas Trail extension will pass.
Janee Pribee, the project’s manager from Creative Pinellas, said these types of projects will contribute to the overall sense of the county as an arts destination.
“We see it as an opportunity to really create a sense of community and a sense of place in these different locations that otherwise are either just targets for graffiti or just underutilized spaces,” she said.
After an open call and reviewing over two dozen applications, Palladino was selected based on his experience with projects this size and the clear voice in his art.
“He is so established beyond Pinellas County,” Pribee said. “It really felt like it elevated the whole program to have somebody of his level really be representative of the county for the very first time that we're doing this project.”
At a very young age, Palladino says his dad would point out murals in the Bronx and tell him that he should be pursuing that kind of art.
Recognizing his talent, his parents enrolled him in the arts magnet program at John’s Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg. He completed his first mural in a Largo barbershop at 14 years old.
Palladino said he was hesitant to apply to this program because he was afraid he didn’t have the “Florida friendly” style the county was looking for, but was pleasantly surprised when he got the call.
“Going through the whole process, they were so supportive and encouraging to be me and do me,” he said. “I was really taken aback by that and really grateful.”
Out of the three pieces proposed by Palladino, Creative Pinellas said they chose this one because of its bright colors and fun characters.
“There’s these fun little elements that brought in him and his style, but also combined with the transportation element,” Pribee said.
The extension of the Pinellas Trail was a factor in choosing the mural’s location and Palladino says he was inspired by motion and the idea of people coming and going.
“I imagined people whizzing by and commuting and ‘Hey! I’m going to go for a cruise, be right back,” he said.
The mural unveiling is this Saturday and will include a performance by the East Lake High School vocal ensemble and a Q&A with Palladino.