ST. PETERSBURG There will be paint. A lot of it. The SHINE Mural Festival officially kicks off Tuesday, but you might already notice a small army of artists transforming drab exterior walls into tapestries of color and imagery along the Central Avenue corridor and fanning out north and south at three locations and counting. They will add to a vibrant and growing collection of murals that has enhanced St. Petersburg's image as an artful city. "We already have a thriving interest in murals," said Leon Bedore, a prominent muralist and graphic artist known professionally as Tes One, who is curating SHINE. Through his contacts locally, nationally and even internationally, he has assembled an impressive roster of talent. "Even though we have people coming from other places, which seems to be a big attraction, this is very much a local project," he said. "Because of our amazing community of artists, we have fertile ground to bring in other talented artists. All of us on the committee felt we wanted to elevate the local talent we know we have." SHINE isn't a traditional arts festival, which usually lasts two to three days in a specific location, featuring finished art, and then shuts down. During this one, you can see the art being made over many days. It remains long after the event has ended. It isn't for sale. That it's happening at all is remarkable. "This is my first time organizing something like this," said Bedore, 37. It was done in a mere six months. "This is really a collaborative effort. So many people are helping, I see my role as a director, figuring out the logistics, how the out-of-town people will get here, where they'll stay. Matching them to walls." The city provided about $25,000 in seed money that has been matched with sponsorship dollars and about $10,000 of in-kind donations. A big challenge with street art is finding building owners willing to buy into its aesthetic. A city ordinance limits the size of signs, so businesses can't just have their names painted large. One misconception is that murals are the same as graffiti, which is illegal in most cities. Murals are a sort of antigraffiti, commissioned by property owners and often created by former graffiti artists, including Bedore, who won't create a work for SHINE because he has to focus on an organizational picture even bigger than a mural. "Owners have to have an open mind about it," he said. "It's not advertising and it isn't necessarily themed to the owner's business." Carrie Jadus, who is creating a mural for GeniusCentral Systems, a software support company with headquarters in a Warehouse Arts District building, said, "They were great about letting me do what I wanted." She has created murals in other cities, but this is her first in St. Petersburg. It will be a tribute to Nikola Tesla, an electrical engineering genius who was instrumental in the invention of the alternating current form of electricity. "I worked for many years as an electrical engineer," she said. "My work was based a lot on his research. He's intriguing and was way ahead of his time." Her mural will be close to the Pinellas Trail "so people will be able to touch it." Encouraging that sort of interaction separates street art from most other forms in which touching a work is considered bad form because it could be damaged. Jadus, saying "it doesn't really matter," affirms an acceptance of murals' finiteness by their creators. "I don't worry about longevity," said Ya La'Ford, who is transforming the walkway next to Ferg's Sports Bar — called the Tunnel — into an immersive visual experience. She's painting the walls, ceiling and floors of the 85-foot space and covering them with her signature graphic patterns designed to mimic sun rays. It references, she says, the tunnel's connection to the Tampa Bay Rays stadium and is a metaphor for coming through darkness into the light. "I'm titling it Sunnel," she said. "It's a tunnel of hope, a space that physically connects places and can connect people." She plans such connections in the form of staged encounters in the tunnel between viewers and various community artists and educators. Bedore said the hope is that SHINE will become an annual event and able to spread beyond the existing concentration. "We hope this becomes contagious and other businesses will want murals," he said. "It's so much about educating the community." With a burgeoning mural culture, can a community have too many? "I don't think so," Bedore said. Contact Lennie Bennett at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.