St. Petersburg’s mural culture defines the city’s commitment to the arts, artists

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It’s no secret to anyone who wanders through the downtown neighborhoods of St. Pete that the city is big on art – literally.

In the artistic Grand Central, Edge, MLK, Central and Warehouse districts and elsewhere in the city center, huge murals adorn the walls of buildings, making a bold statement about the city’s strong artistic culture.

Essentially, Downtown St. Pete is an outdoor art gallery, where the works of local, national, and international artists are displayed. And like a gallery, the exhibits are constantly changing as old murals are covered with new work.

The city’s annual SHINE Mural Festival is when many new murals are painted. The most recent festival was in October, when 19 new murals debuted. The rotation of new murals around the city is what helps keep the downtown scene fresh and vibrant, believes Terry Marks, CEO of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, which stages SHINE. She said that over time, the city’s murals have helped define its character and many businesses are embracing it.

“They want to be part of the street art community,” Marks said, adding that nonprofits are also getting into the scene and want their own murals, to “engage and beautify” the facades of their buildings. buildings.

“It’s infectious,” said Johnny Vitale, a muralist who operates Vitale Bros., a St. Pete mural and art studio that’s been around since the city’s mural movement began.

Not only are many downtown businesses clamoring for murals, but St. Pete’s homeowners have caught the bug.

“They want them in their homes, especially by their pools,” said Vitale, who started his business in 1992. “In 1990 there were only a handful (of murals) in town; now they Vitale likes how the murals have evolved in St. Pete over the years, as they are not garish or “shameless publicity”, nor “just graffiti”, but rather “true art for the public”. ‘art”.

“Companies use them to create an identity, but they’re not blatant advertising messages,” he said. “They are more like landmarks that people associate the company with.”

This striking wolf mural was created by St. Pete’s muralists, the Vitale Bros. for the city’s Casita Taqueria restaurant. [ Vitale Bros. ]

Vitale said his business is staying busy these days, and because murals are so popular, he’s adopted a simple, square-foot billing policy. A simple design can cost $10 per square foot, while something with lots of detail can cost $40 per square foot. He works alongside his artist brother Paul, a few other artists, and a staff member to create Vitales across the city.

He and his brother learned about murals working for a billboard company in the pre-digital era, when things were done by hand and only by imagination. When the murals began at St. Pete, he said he and other artists were not paid for their creations.

“Nobody was paid,” he recalls. “They were just doing art, but then we started getting calls (for mural work); now we get calls from everywhere.

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Bright and cheerful, this mural by Leo Gomez provides a focal point and splash of color along N. 7th Ave. in St. Pete.  Gomez opened Gomez Studio in the city six years ago.
Bright and cheerful, this mural by Leo Gomez provides a focal point and splash of color along N. 7th Ave. in St. Pete. Gomez opened Gomez Studio in the city six years ago. [ Leo Gomez ]

Another well-known artist in the city is muralist Leo Gomez, owner of the Gomez Studio. He started out as a graphic designer and lettering artist working at a company on brand campaigns, but moved to St. Pete six years ago to set up his own studio. He had considered California, but there “was something about St. Pete,” he said, adding that he’s relatively small but has room to grow. The fact that the city is so welcoming to the arts and artists sealed the deal for him, adding that St. Pete was the right choice for him.

“The business just got bigger and bigger,” said Gomez, who meant that figuratively and literally, as he soon became part of the city’s mural-creating group, painting the greatest works. plus hundreds of signs and lettering projects.

One of his best-known murals was the “Sunshine on my Mind” mural on 3rd Avenue South. At 135 feet in diameter, it can easily be seen by drivers on I-275, he said.

A guide map of St. Pete’s murals shows around 60 of them scattered around the city center, and Marks and the Arts Alliance intend to merge some of them with performing arts using digital technology . The goal of the Murals in Mind program is to use Pixelstix software available for tablets and smartphones that would allow people viewing a mural to point their device’s camera at a smart plate adjacent to a mural, which would then play curated backing music, read a poem, or maybe play a video to enhance the experience, Marks said. It will be more than just an entertainment amplifier.

German artist Case Maclaim created this stunning mural during the SHINE Mural Festival in St. Petersburg last year.  The annual event resulted in 19 new murals downtown, with participation from local, state, national and international artists.
German artist Case Maclaim created this stunning mural during the SHINE Mural Festival in St. Petersburg last year. The annual event resulted in 19 new murals downtown, with participation from local, state, national and international artists. [ Michelle Tannu ]

“It’s not therapy, but the hope is to affect people’s mental health in a positive way,” she said. “It can shift the energy of your day into a more positive light.”

Marks said a similar program was underway in Flint, Michigan, and had proven to be a beneficial addition in that community.

Once in place, the technology can also be used for fun activities, such as providing clues for a treasure hunt.

The Arts Alliance received a grant to launch the project and is seeking additional funding to make the system a reality. When launched, the first implementation would include 12 murals with information plaques.

Until then, Marks said anyone can visit the city’s murals, enjoy the art and learn more about the artists at stpeteartsalliance.org. By clicking on the SHINE festival link on the site’s homepage, there is a map showing the locations of each of the city’s murals, the dates they were created, and the artists who created them.

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