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St. Petersburg artists' market counts on new location, new name

ST. PETERSBURG — The local artists market formerly known as Art in the Park was scheduled to debut as Arts on the Avenue Saturday in its new home along 11th Street between Central and First Avenue N.

After weeks of setbacks in finding a new location, Arts on the Avenue has moved to parking areas and empty lots near Savannah's Café, Creative Clay, Interior Motives and Simple Living.

The outdoor art market will be held on 11th Street until its season ends in April, except for a onetime move to the BayWalk Promenade on Feb. 13.

In recent weeks the market had been canceled because of cold weather and illness of the primary organizer, Christine Silvia. Before that, the market was displaced by other events and was moved to South Straub Park, where sales far exceeded earnings at Williams Park.

But moving to South Straub, or any other downtown park, would prove to be nearly impossible for a weekly market.

"I needed to find somewhere where artists would be able to sell," Silvia said.

"All of these are local artists and for two or three of them I know this is all their income, and for a lot of others, this supports their income."

Art in the Park was started in 2007 by City Council chairwoman Leslie Curran as part of a larger effort by the City Council and former Mayor Rick Baker to revitalize Williams Park. Other regular programs were instated as well, such as a Wednesday Morning Market that was eventually phased out as crowds dwindled.

Although parks department officials said they would accommodate the weekly artists market in Williams Park, Silvia said she has a laundry list of reasons why the city's oldest park doesn't work. They include:

• At a busy bus terminal along one side of the park, buses waiting 15 to 20 minutes during layovers obstruct views of an event taking place.

• Potential visitors are deterred by negative perceptions of the city's homeless, long a problem in the area.

• Artists selling metal work, pottery, paintings and jewelry began seeing declining sales this season as people stopped coming to Williams Park.

• Artist participation dropped to about 15. But more than 30 artists signed on when it was held in South Straub Park in November and December.

"I just can't get people to come to Williams Park," Silvia said. "We have not been able to break that barrier that will bring people in. Until things change at Williams Park with the homeless and the buses, that's just the way it's going to be.

"Physically we love it. It's a beautiful park and the space is perfect for the event, but people just won't come there."

With Williams Park out of the question, organizers were plagued with problems in finding a permanent home for the market. Silvia looked into obtaining a street closure permit for a downtown location, but the Police Department's special events unit no longer issues permits for recurring events.

The financial nature of Art in the Park, which matches artists with potential buyers, was also a barrier in finding a regular venue in a city park. Unlike Saturday Morning Market, which is an incorporated nonprofit organization, and First Fridays, which is a nonprofit music event, Art in the Park is a group of independent artists selling their wares, which is prohibited by city ordinances.

"We cannot do a for-profit event every Saturday," Curran said. "We do not want any one organization monopolizing a park week after week after week."

The only exception to the rule is by obtaining a park permit or special permission, which was granted to Art in the Park by the parks department only for Williams Park.

Despite recent hurdles in finding a venue, Silvia said she hopes the new location will help local artists.

"There's 30 or 40 local artists that have really enjoyed a lot of publicity for their work," Silvia said of the event. "It really shows a commitment to St. Petersburg as an arts destination. The outdoor market is accessible to anyone — it breaks down some of the walls of a gallery representing the artist's work that for many people is intimidating. And it gets people exposed to local artists."

St. Petersburg artists' market counts on new location, new name 01/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 4:38pm]
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