By Erin Grigg
Wall murals are big paintings on the side of buildings that can be viewed for pleasure. They are definitely not events or something that requires participation, until now. Artists, business owners, art enthusiast, even politicians, are transforming the way murals are done in downtown St. Petersburg.
“I try to include the kids whenever I can,” said local mural artist Derek Donnelly. On Valentines Day, Donnelly painted a mural of a St. Petersburg postcard on the side of the St Petersburg Museum of History. The museum made the mural unveiling a participatory event. Elementary and middle school kids painted the wall right below the mural while Donnelly added the finishing touches. “A teacher came [and] drew outlines of a boat, a fish, a guitar, just random objects, and then the kids could fill it in like a paint by number,” said Donnelly.
Bar owner John Cullen also sees mural painting as a community event opportunity. He invited the public to help paint the side of his bar, The Amsterdam, for The American Heart Association’s Wear Red Day on February 6th. Local artist Sarah Sheppard painted the wall solid white and added a woman wearing a red dress off to the left. Across the wall was the simple question, “Why do you go Red?” Then, at 5pm, the wall opened to the public. Anyone was welcome to come, pick up their paintbrush, and add their own touch. No artistic ability required.
Cullen sees wall murals as more than just an art form. For him, it is a way to support an artist and involve the community in a great cause. “It’s a circle. We help the artist by giving them what they need to do, what they do, and they help us, but whatever we get we put back into them. We got to keep the wheel spinning,” said Cullen.
The arts in downtown St. Petersburg have not gone unnoticed. The change has attracted tourists and locals alike. The Huffington Post named St. Petersburg the number one up and coming tourist destination in the United States for 2015.
Now, the city government is starting to get more involved. “St. Petersburg is a city of the Arts,” said St. Petersburg Mayor, Rick Kriseman. Kriseman has set aside $30,000 a year for funding public art. “The arts make an economical impact. This Mayor gets that,” said Diane Shelly, executive director of Florida Craft Art, a non profit organization dedicated to promoting the arts. Kriseman sees St. Petersburg as a place where the arts and businesses can work together. He thinks as the city expands, the arts will expand right along with it; the two are tied together.
Shelly says the main factor that makes the arts flourish in St. Petersburg is the collaborative spirit. Artists, business owners, and government members all have the same vision for St. Petersburg. They see the city as an arts destination where the art itself is the main attraction.
Shelly, three mural artist, and members of the city government are all working together to create a mural festival in September, curated by nationally renowned artist Tes One. “It’s the best committee I have ever worked on,” said Shelly. “Everyone is so excited.”
The festival is still in the beginning of the planning stage but Shelly says it will be a “world class event.” Nothing like this has been done before in Tampa Bay so the committee is free to experiment with new ideas. Shelly is open to having the community paint one of the murals. “Tes did a ‘leave a message event’ [before] and it would be nice to do something like that again…we should be involved.”