The street art in St. Petersburg, Florida, is a selling point for tourism. It started with unwanted tagging on buildings and evolved into murals authorized by building owners and respected by taggers.
Tampa Bay Times art critic Lennie Bennett has the backstory.
“In recent decades, murals have become a way to spruce up bare walls of buildings and to discourage graffiti. St. Petersburg has street murals in many areas but there is a concentration of them along the downtown Central Avenue corridor. To see them at their best, you need to walk through the area. Even if you travel the route regularly by car, you’ll miss many of them because they adorn the once-drab back walls facing alleys.
“An incentive for owners of the buildings, says [Florida CraftArt executive director Diane Shelly], is that they were regularly ‘tagged,’ meaning a graffiti artist would use an exterior wall as a canvas or to scrawl messages with spray paint. ‘It’s illegal and the city has a graffiti removal program,’ so city workers come out and use whatever paint is available to cover up the tags, which led to a different kind of unsightliness, she said. ‘But taggers respect art, and most won’t tag an existing mural.’ …
“Shelly commissioned Derek Donnelly to create a mural that would replace those painted-over areas and discourage future tagging. ‘A Moment to Reflect ‘was created by Donnelly and Sebastian Coolidge, another well-known street painter whose most beloved work is probably the image of a young man with elongated limbs stretching for an orange on the exterior of the clothing store Freshly Squeezed at First Avenue N and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.
” ‘Reflect’ is the largest of the Central Avenue murals, stretching up four floors. It depicts a businessman wearing a green tie, the color associated with CraftArt’s neighbor and sponsor of the mural, Regions Bank, discovering his creative side. ‘I think it’s the largest free-hand mural in St. Petersburg,’ Shelly says, meaning it wasn’t done using a grid method or projector. …
“Because of the murals’ growing popularity, some business owners rehire the artists to freshen up the works rather than painting over them.
“But in [the experience of Leon Bedore, or Tes One] ‘You end up learning that all murals are temporary art and not intended to stay up forever. (When painting illegally) I felt lucky to have one up for a night. A week was amazing. When an owner didn’t have one removed I thought, ‘” might be on to something if they’re keeping it up.” ‘ ”
Photo: Creative Loafing