Fresh Up Dance Party

In celebration of the Bahamian “fresh up” attitude, the MFA presents a tropical-themed party from 7 to 10 pm July 29 featuring DJ, dancing, and Bahamian-influenced cuisine and drinks. Don your best Going Out Clothes as you and your friends will be mingling with featured artist Gio Swaby!   

Looking for inspiration? Summery bright colors, floral prints, enamel jewelry, and straw bags are traditional. The party happens in the museum Conservatory; tickets are $30 for non-members with admission applied to the cost of a new membership. Go to https://mfastpete.org/event/fresh-up-dance-party/    

Art Adventure

Over two decades, St. Pete’s Second Saturday ArtWalk has grown from a gallery hop to a highly anticipated signature event.

By Marcia Briggs

GRAND
Kitchen + Bath

Renovations + Designs + Installation

As November rolls around, cooler nights are invitations to get out and enjoy all that St. Pete has to offer. A guaranteed adventure awaits those who venture forth at the monthly Second Saturday ArtWalk, which encompasses galleries, studios and public spaces in five of the Burg’s downtown Arts Districts and waterfront.

Drive, walk or hop aboard the white Star Trolley that circulates among the Districts; whichever you choose you must settle with the fact that you won’t be able to visit all of the 40 or so galleries and studios on the list. I always find myself spending twice as much time as I planned at certain locations. 

Like any good adventure, ArtWalks presents plenty of opportunities for engagement from meeting an artist to listening to live music or running into old friends. It’s also a great way to discover all those hip and trendy galleries you would never visit on your own. On ArtWalk night, you’re part of an art tribe and exploration is the name of the game. 

The organizer and sponsoring entity for the monthly event is the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance (SPAA), spearheaded by director Terry Marks. She feels Second Saturday ArtWalk, which takes place from 5 to 9 pm,  has evolved over time to become a unique monthly celebration of the arts, and most importantly, an economic driver for downtown artists and small businesses such as restaurants and bars. It’s become a marketing tool, as well, attracting visitors and tourists to a  culturally vibrant downtown.

 “ArtWalk not only supports local and emerging artists, it brings a sense of community,” she says. “Other cities may have art walks, but I think ours is unique because it covers five Arts Districts. And now with the addition of the Star Trolley, we hope to encourage the use of mass transit along the walkability.”

If you’re new to ArtWalks or your time is limited , I suggest focusing on a visit to a larger venue that offers a number of galleries and studios. At the ArtsXchange, an indoor-outdoor campus in the heart of the Warehouse Arts District,  you can wander among some 25 working studios, enjoy live music and vendors in the plaza, and visit exhibits in the Tully Levine Gallery and the Burka Lounge. Next door at Soft Water Studios, drop in and see works by highly regarded painter Carrie Jadus, and large-scale public art sculptures being planned or fabricated  at Mark Aeling’s MGA Sculpture Studio. 

 This is where I found artist Robert Sutherland and his wife Mary in his Soft Water studio/gallery, welcoming me with a cold sangria and a broad smile. His walls are covered in a myriad of paintings big and small: mystical figures, magical landscapes, fantasy scenes. No two are alike. His signature “quad” paintings, though, stand out.

 “The paintings are called ‘quads’ because you see four identical images,” says the artist, who can also be found playing guitar at various clubs and restaurants in Pinellas County.   He explains how the painting is placed wet on a spinning wheel and the main image “clones” itself around the perimeter of the canvas so you see four different paintings in one. “I’m the ‘Quad-Father,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. 

Sutherland  feels Second Saturday ArtWalk “is the lifeblood of St. Pete” for local artists.  “Every artist needs an audience, we need people to see our work and get feedback.  ArtWalks help to establish you in the community, you meet your peers and establish a reputation.

“It’s also a great opportunity for art buyers to experience a whole lot of art. I see so many regulars that come monthly, not to buy but just to experience the art. The most important thing about ArtWalk is the people.”   

A few blocks away, the Five Deuces Galleria shares a large parking lot with 3 Daughters Brewery, so the place is hopping for ArtWalk. Spread throughout  three buildings are small working studios, with a large gallery space featuring rotating artists each month. It’s like a maze finding the studios, each one a present to be unwrapped. A dizzying array of art runs the gamut from fantasy to contemporary, sculpture, fiber, ceramics,  in a varying degree of price points.  

 Here I am drawn to the colorful eye-catching graphic style of Mark Williams; his tiny working studio draws a steady stream of walkers. I learn that Williams has quite the background in graphics and set design and his whimsical flamingo art is a top-seller.  Williams loves the opportunity ArtWalk gives to artists and local residents alike.

 “It gives emerging artists the same opportunity to be seen,” he explains.  “As an artist, it’s gratifying to hear comments and see facial expressions, that one-on-one interaction is so important. ArtWalk allows validation of your work.

“Not everyone can afford fine art,” he adds. “ArtWalk is a great place for people to find more affordable art.”

A relative newcomer to the ArtWalk scene is The Factory, an entire city block of renovated warehouses in the Warehouse Arts District that has been transformed into an entertainment complex, with live music, shops, space for creatives, and an artists’ enclave. 

On Second Saturdays, you can listen to live jazz from the Young Lions program of Clearwater Jazz Holiday (6-8 pm), hear tall tales by The Storytellers of Old Tampa Bay (5-7 pm), and release your inner juju at Keep St. Pete Lit’s Poetry Series and Open Mic (7:30-9 pm). And, oh yes, don’t forget to peruse the stalls of several dozen arts and crafts dealers. 

Planning an ArtWalk

I consider myself a seasoned ArtWalker, so will offer up a few tips for the newbies:

1). Always plan your walk. Check out the Facebook page of the St. Pete Arts Alliance a couple days before Saturday to determine which galleries and studios most interest you. They do an excellent job of previewing many of the artists and galleries.  The shows are wildly diverse and change monthly.

 Then go to the website stpeteartsalliance.org/artwalk and print out the monthly ArtWalk map and guide.  I generally circle an Arts District where I want to visit a gallery, and then stroll between all nearby locations. 

2) Car vs Trolley – I am all for multimodal transit, but unless you don’t mind waiting, and waiting, for the single trolley, your own transportation is ultimately more convenient (especially if you end up buying something). Parking can be difficult, so plan ahead. Some lots are available for free parking such as the Arts Xchange and Five Deuces Galleria, but it’s always a crap shoot to find a space on Second Saturday. Be prepared to walk and pay attention to that parking meter. 

3) Expect a time warp. You seriously won’t get beyond a handful of galleries in one hour since you are enveloped in a magical mystery tour of wonderful, bizarre, and interesting people, music and art. I can never seem to arrive before 7 pm, allowing me only enough time for one District.  Bigger venues – the  Arts Xchange campus, the Factory,  Art Lofts and the Five Deuces Galleria can easily consume an hour each. (Self-indulgent plea to ArtWalk organizers: Please extend the hours to 10 pm!)

SPL Faves

Everyone has different tastes, but these are favorites that generally don’t disappoint. By all means, try to visit new galleries each time you walk. The diversity is amazing and the artists and gallery owners work hard to present exhibits to amaze and amuse.

Florida CraftArt and ArtLofts,  Central Arts District

Woodfield Fine Art, Grand Central Arts District

D-Gallerie and ARTicles Gallery, Uptown Arts District

Morean Arts Center, Central Arts Distract

Morean Center for Clay, Warehouse Arts District

The Factory, Warehouse Arts District

Atelier de Sosi, Warehouse Arts District 

 ArtsXchange, Soft Water Studio and MGA Sculpture Studios, Warehouse Arts District

How ArtWalk Was Born

Excerpted from a new report on the history of Second Saturday ArtWalk by former St. Pete Arts Alliance executive director John Collins: 

The first official “gallery walk” sponsored by the St. Petersburg Downtown Arts Association took place in October 1999, scheduled for the second Saturday of the month. Most galleries were clustered along Central Avenue, a far cry from the expansive multi-district ArtWalks today. As the DAA grew, the geographical boundaries began to expand and trolleys were booked.

The arts community was growing rapidly, working mostly in small studios, lofts and warehouse space outside of the Central Avenue corridor where exposure to patrons was limited to non-existent.  It was time for Arts Districts to be born.

Pioneering artists such as Duncan McClellan (DMG Glass) and Mark Aeling (MGA Sculpture Studio) ) moved into the Dome Industrial Park. Aeling and others named the area the Warehouse Arts District and founded the ArtsXchange and the Warehouse Arts District Association (WADA) in 2012, expanding the city's arts footprint and adding studios to what was mostly a gallery hop. 

In 2013, the Downtown Arts Association became the Arts Association of St. Petersburg, which eventually merged into the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. 

The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance named the Beach Drive area the Waterfront Arts District; and with Florida CraftArt, named the 600 block of Central Avenue and adjacent blocks the Central Arts District.  Arts leaders further up Central Avenue named their area the EDGE District (Entertainment, Dining, Galleries, Etc.), which bordered the Grand Central Arts District.  

Eventually a SPAA ArtWalk steering committee was formed under the guidance of John Collins.    Studios and galleries began to plan their show openings on second Saturdays, knowing that collectively they would draw more visitors. Today, ArtWalk participants are required to be members in good standing of one of the Arts Districts.

Visitor numbers were collected monthly and figures over time showed consistent trends. ArtWalk was attracting some 3,000 visitors every month to over 40 galleries and studios with over 200 artists participating.  In good weather, some 4,000 visitors attended. It became apparent that not only was ArtWalk fun, it was an economic driver for local artists and nearby businesses.