Painting the Town Stories
Mural Revival Around Tampa Bay, story below
Meet 3 Tampa Bay Artists
A Pioneer in the Mural World
Mural Revival Around Tampa Bay
STORY BY CHERLENE WILLIS
Special to Live Local! magazine
On a typical summer evening, locals stay in their air-conditioned homes and tourists flock to the beaches to catch sunsets. But St. Petersburg artists Derek Donnelly and Sebastian Coolidge have other plans. They gather ladders, paint and other supplies and set out to create a collaborative vision. In the dark.
It’s cooler at night, they explain.
Donnelly, 31, and Coolidge, 25, had been commissioned to paint a mural for Florida Craftsmen, a statewide non-profit organization focused on Florida’s original fine crafts.
The inspiration for the mural behind the gallery in downtown St. Petersburg was to kickstart an initiative to support and promote public art in the Central Arts District, says Diane Shelly, executive director of the organization. “We want to brand ourselves through the murals,” Shelly says. “It’s about the murals, but we want everybody to understand and appreciate the downtown businesses as well.”
Shelly now organizes mural tours featuring about 30 works by various artists, mainly in the back alleys downtown.
Donnelly and Coolidge came up with the Florida Craftsmen mural idea within minutes of brainstorming. “The concept is about a businessman (who) kicks up his shoes at the end of the day, and (starts) honing into his creative spirit,” Donnelly said.
The green tie in the mural is a nod to Region’s Bank, which helped fund the project. The donation sends a message that businesses are taking arts more seriously, Donnelly says.
Businesses “are seeing the work and the value in supporting the local artists and supporting the community,” Donnelly says. “They’re willing to embrace the creativity.”
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Murals are not a new thing. One of Tampa Bay’s most iconic murals, the Tampa Postcard on North Florida Avenue, was created in 2003 by Carl Cowden III and repainted in 2012 after water damage forced building owners to remove the original mural. In Gulfport, Keith Stillwagon, 70, has been painting murals at homes and businesses since the mid-1990s. And two decades before that, artist Thomas H. Street moved to St. Petersburg and saw his career flourish with murals.
But interest faded until recent years, when we started seeing a mural revival throughout Tampa Bay.
Donnelly credits that revival, at least for downtown St. Pete, with two murals. In 2012 Coolidge painted the Freshly Squeezed mural, depicting a boy squeezing an orange. A few months later, friends gathered on the 600 Block of St. Petersburg to paint a mural in honor of artist Bill “Woo” Correira, who died from brain cancer in November 2012.
In Hillsborough, Ybor City hosts what is thought to be the state’s largest outdoor original artwork, American Journey, designed by Michael Parker and spanning two blocks on Adamo Drive. Community volunteers and art students from Hillsborough Community College in 2012 painted the 35-foot-tall mural.
Murals are going strong in Clearwater, too, keeping artist Robert Daltry very busy. “There’s a lot of opportunity around, and a lot of growth right now,” he says. “It’s a good time.”
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Thanks to the incredibly talented artists in the area, the mural momentum is unstoppable, says Shelly of the Florida Craftsmen. Many local artists have received national and even international recognition, she says.
Leon ‘Tes One” Bedore of Tampa was featured as one of the 12 artists from 12 countries to create art for a global promotion by McDonald’s during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Tes One’s artwork was included on the company’s french fry packaging. Two years earlier he collaborated with St. Petersburg artist Chris Parks, aka Pale Horse, on a mural behind the State Theatre on the 600 block of St. Petersburg.
As muralists receive recognition for their projects, artists hope support for their other work also blossoms.
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Murals are an “indelible part of the landscape,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says. “A downtown St. Petersburg without murals and public art just isn’t St. Petersburg. We live in one of the most beautiful cities in America. Murals can only enhance that beauty.”
Kriseman wants to see more murals and other public art, not just downtown but across all of St. Petersburg, and has proposed a $100,000 increase in the city art’s budget for fiscal 2015.
“A strong and vibrant arts community is an integral part of our marketing and economic development efforts,” he explains. “Murals do more than just add to the landscape and enhance the culture of our city. Public art serves as an economic engine. The city’s arts and cultural organizations fuel an economic impact of more than $23 million and attract 1.3 million visitors to the city each year, creating 519 jobs.”
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Donnelly, who has dozens of indoor and outdoor murals in St. Petersburg, says he won’t stop until every blank wall is covered.