ST. PETERSBURG — The city touts itself as "the cultural hub of central Florida."
Boasting six museums, including the world famous Salvador Dali Museum, as well as an active performing arts community, art minded visitors and residents enjoy a variety of cultural venues.
Soon, city streets themselves may become an attraction for art lovers.
With the support of city leaders, one local artist has plans to transform the sidewalks along the waterfront into a giant outdoor gallery.
Lance Rodgers has developed a concept called Sculpturewalk, which will place large outdoor sculptures on public land along the waterfront from Vinoy Park south to the Albert Whitted Airport and along the approach to the Pier. The sculptures will represent a variety of styles and themes.
Rodgers, a painter and photographer born and raised in St. Petersburg, said a passion for the arts drives his vision, and he thinks the arts can serve as an economic engine for the city.
"The arts' impact in the community is way overlooked," he said. "While the Trop was sitting empty waiting for a team, there was an arts explosion in this town. Take the arts out of town and there would be tumbleweeds."
A jury made up of artists, community leaders and residents will choose the sculptures from ideas submitted by artists. Each piece will remain on display for two years, with half rotated out every 12 months.
The plan calls for installation in three phases, with the first phase running from Fifth Avenue N to Central Avenue. Rodgers hopes to have a timeline developed by fall.
Rodgers has received the blessing of the City Council and the mayor, and says his plan will not cost taxpayers any money. He plans to finance the project through fundraisers and sponsorships, and he hopes proceeds from the sale of the sculpture will defray ongoing expenses. Sculpturewalk will also benefit artists.
Sculptors will have the opportunity to sell their work and receive valuable exposure, Rodgers said. The artist will earn 65 percent of the sale price, with Sculpturewalk retaining the other 35 percent to help fund the project.
In addition to the opportunity to sell their work, the artists will receive a $1,000 stipend upon delivery and setup to defray costs.
"I love putting money in artists' pockets," Rogers said. "There's a lot of artists out there that are worthy and I'd like to give them some exposure."
Beth Herendeen, the St. Petersburg director of marketing, said the city is enthusiastic about the plan.
"This would offer another attraction for people to come downtown," she said. "It could be another signature for the city."
The city has questions and concerns about things like liability and cost, because it will not provide any money for the project. Herendeen said the city wants to ensure that funding is in place to maintain the artwork before the project moves forward, but she said Rogers did a good job addressing those issues in his proposal.
Rodgers said the development process has gone more slowly than he expected, but he will continue to push forward. He put out a call to artists on his Web site and will spend the next several months soliciting sponsorships and planning fundraisers.
The beauty of the plan rests in its simplicity, Rodgers said.
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