ST. PETERSBURG — A growing and active arts community already has changed the image and reputation of a city once world famous for its retirees.
Now, city, arts and community promoters are hoping to capitalize on that new culture and fame by attracting artists – and art buyers – from the United States and beyond with a 17-day arts celebration.
Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Wednesday the first St. Petersburg Festival of the arts, which will be held downtown and in the city’s art districts from Sept. 11-27.
“We are building what we hope eventually is a festival that has nationwide recognition, that people will plan their vacations around,” Kriseman told about 30 people at a morning news conference announcing the festival, which also will be known by the shorthand SPF15.
He made the announcement at the Morean Center for Clay at the 1926 historic train station. In the midst of the city’s Warehouse Arts District at 420 22nd St. S., the Morean Center is emblematic of the expanding arts community that is revitalizing aging parts of the city.
The new arts festival is being organized by a longtime city promotional group, the Suncoasters of St. Petersburg, which ran one the city’s longest running signature events, the annual Festival of States Parade that began in 1956.
The renowned parade was discontinued five years ago, and Suncoasters of St. Petersburg decided to find another way to promote the city, President Bob Lang said.
“Our sole task since 1956 is to celebrate St. Petersburg,” Lang said. The group has been planning the arts festival for about a year.
SPF15 so far has about 30 events planned, including visual arts, performing arts, art walks and museums tours. Shows and exhibits during the two-plus weeks will span from Straub Park on the Bayfront, west along Central Avenue and to the Warehouse Arts District.
Mural artists from Montreal, Italy, San Francisco, New York and others begin painting 14 buildings on the first weekend, said John Collins, executive director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. Those will add to the numerous murals by local artists that already adorn downtown buildings.
“It’s going to be wonderfully crazy,” Collins said
He said the second weekend highlights performing arts with American Stage Theater, the Palladium Theatre and the St Petersburg City Theatre.
The St. Pete Wine and Food Festival begins Sept. 24 and runs through the final weekend, with the Solstice Street Festival on Sept. 25, an all-day celebration along Central Avenue with food, music, art and shopping.
“We’ll have thousands of people downtown,” Collins said.
Also on the final weekend, 10 local commissioned chalk artists, some of whom travel to places such as San Francisco and New York, will do their work in South Straub Park on the Bayfront, sponsored by Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture & the Arts.
Executive Director Susana Weymouth said the festival “is going to bring attention to the fact that there are more than museums” in the city’s art community.
Under Kriseman and with the city council, the city allocated $200,000 for the arts this past year.
The mayor called the first year a “warm up” for an event that is expected to grow in size and exposure each year.
“This to me is about taking the next step,” Kriseman said. “It isn’t just about showcasing (artists). It’s about bringing in people who are going to buy.”
For schedules and other information on the festival, go online to stpetefest.org.