With an average of 361 days of sunshine each year, St Petersburg, Florida, rightfully earns its nickname, but it’s not just the weather that attracts visitors. The Gulf Coast city is home to a vibrant art scene that includes the renowned Salvador Dali Museum, home to the largest collection of the artist’s paintings outside of Spain, as well as an annual festival that invites some of the best street artists in the world to shine their light on St Petersburg.
SHINE Mural Festival
Since its inception in 2015, the SHINE Mural Festival has lured local, national and international artists who have transformed warehouses, coffee shops, bus stations, law offices, and other urban canvases into an outdoor and free art gallery that’s open 24/7. This year, the 9th annual event took place between 13-22 October and added 14 murals to St. Petersburg’s cityscape by artists from Canada, London, Australia, Nevada, Miami, Chicago and the Tampa Bay area.
Produced by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, SHINE Mural Festival is a curated event and earning a spot is a coveted honour for selected artists The 10-day showcase is a celebration of the power of art in public spaces and lets visitor watch in real time as muralists perch high on ladders, spray paint cans in hand, and deck the walls and buildings with their astonishing creativity and visual storytelling skills. Artists often take breaks to chat with fans and its not uncommon to see Instagram influencers positioning their selfie sticks to snap that perfect shot. #shineonstpete
St Petersburg’s murals have also become popular backdrops for vacation photos, family holiday cards and even pet pics.
Street Art & Community Collaborations
This year, three “Bright Spot” projects connected muralists with local businesses to collaborate on work that highlighted aspiring young female artists, the resilience of Chinese Americans who helped build America’s West Coast, and the beauty of the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg’s waterfront campus.
Girl Power, a collaboration between Alyssa Maire of The Happy Mural Project and Girl Scouts of West Central Florida, was a paint-by-number mural project. Anyone who desired to lend a hand and a paintbrush was invited to realize this project.
Chenlin Cai, born in Fujian, China, traveled to St Petersburg to collaborate with the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art to create a Bright Spot mural that was an extension of the museum’s special exhibition “From Far East to West: The Chinese American Frontier”. His mural, The Path We Came, explores the dichotomy between the two cultures he inhabits, and this project speaks to identity and community and how the past can impact the present.
Greater Public Studio and University of South Florida-St. Pete collaborated to create Fluid Structures, street art that is on a paved intersection near the university’s St Petersburg campus.
Some of 2023’s Muralists
Every mural tells a story and admirers must stand across the street from the Little Philly sandwich shop in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District to take in all that is happening in Michael Vasquez’ depiction of friends or family gathered around a vintage Datsun 280-Z. Known for his figurative paintings and portraiture, Vasquez work explores identity and the cultivation of community and belonging amid an inherent social disposition of broken homes and marginalized neighbourhoods.
Andrea Wan of Vancouver, British Columbia, considers her art a “vessel for her stream of consciousness, allowing what needs to emerge”. Her SHINE mural adorns a 20-storey apartment building, also in the Grand Central District.
Acceptance into the festival can augment a burgeoning career and put an artist on a worldwide map. Sometimes, artists share their gifts of gratitude with the city that shares their passion. Such is the case with London muralist Dave Bonzai who has perfected the look of spray paint and chrome reflected in light. He calls the style Liquid Chrome and his “Sunshine City” mural, a hat tip to St Petersburg, now ornaments the side of a law office in the EDGE District.
Rhys Meatyard creates from their home studio in St Petersburg’s Historic Roser Park neighbourhood. Known for their layered graphic design, Meatyard grew up watching their mother etch cemetery headstones, which is where they developed a knack and appreciation for typography, a signature of their work.
Street Art For All
New and diverse art that augments an already art-rich city is what makes SHINE appealing. Anyone can view it, but for those with barriers to visual access, SHINE added increased accessibility with the Pixel Stix app. Easily downloadable for iPhone or Android users, simply position the app over a QR code on the mural to hear museum-quality narration about the artist and the work.
SHINE is the first festival of its kind first in the world to offer this type accessible audio tour, which enables each mural to be interactive and accessible without walls or the price of admission.
Arts & Culture Strengthen Local Economies
The Arts & Economic Prosperity Survey by Americans for the Arts (*), a national leader in arts advocacy and data gathering, states that in 2022, 34.4% of visitors to Pinellas County, where St Petersburg is located, engaged in arts offerings and spent an average of $46.37 (not including dining, hotel stays and other economic impacts.)
The survey also found that 84% of nonlocal attendees reported that the primary purpose of their visit was specifically to attend a performance, event, exhibit, venue or facility.
Longtime residents and frequent visitors agree that St Petersburg has been resurrected from a sleepy retirement town to an arts and culture destination. Even if you consider yourself an art neophyte, a visit will likely turn you into an art lover. Much of the credit for St. Petersburg’s cultural clout goes to the diverse and giving local creators who choose to live and work in the Sunshine City.
And it’s events like SHINE and that make St Petersburg an innovative bright spot in a world that could use a little more light.
How to Mural Peep in St. Petersburg
St Petersburg has seven arts districts: the Central Arts District, Deuces Live District, Warehouse Arts District, Grand Central District, the Uptown Arts District, Waterfront Museum District, and the EDGE District. Each is walkable and accessible by public transportation, making mural peeping easy. Many of the murals are visible from the Pinellas Trail, a multi-use paved path of protected greenspace frequented by walkers, joggers, skaters and cyclists that runs through the Grand Central, Deuces Live, and Warehouse Arts Districts.
Easy-to-navigate SHINE Mural Festival maps guide visitors through the city’s neighborhoods.
If you prefer a guided tour, Florida Craft Art in downtown St Petersburg offers mural tours on foot or bicycle on Saturdays.
Learn more about visiting the Sunshine City at visitstpeteclearwater.com
Be Seeing You In: St Petersburg, Florida
Good to know: SHINE Mural Festival maps can be downloaded here
WOW! Factor: There are more than 600 murals around the city
Tip: Veo Scooters are available to rent throughout downtown St Petersburg and are a fun way to see many of the SHINE murals. Download the app here.
Author bio: Kerry Kriseman
*Source: The Arts & Economic Prosperity Survey (AEP6), was released by Americans for the Arts