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How Tampa Bay’s visual art scene has transformed in 10 years

With new museums, world class exhibitions, arts districts and an abundance of murals, Tampa Bay has grown into an arts destination.

Editor’s note: This story is part of “A Decade Defined By,” a series that examines how Tampa Bay has changed in the past decade. We will publish one story a day until Dec. 31. Read the whole package here.

After a huge national slash to arts funding in 2009, it’s remarkable that visual art in Tampa Bay actually ramped up in 2010. That year, the Tampa Museum of Art opened its new space, the anticipated Chihuly Collection opened in St. Petersburg and galleries filled the city’s once blighted 600 block of Central Avenue.

Andy Schlauch, Chihuly Collection Executive Director, works to label pieces in the Sunset Persian Wall exhibit, before they are packed up and moved at the Chihuly Collection, 400 Beach Drive, in St. Petersburg in August 2016. [ SHADD, DIRK | Tampa Bay Times ]

The energized St. Petersburg scene grew and spread. The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance was created and established five arts districts. Artists in the Warehouse Arts Districts formed the ArtsXChange, a compound with 28 studios that currently has a 400-person waiting list.

Meanwhile, in Tampa, Tempus Projects opened, showcasing contemporary artists. Now celebrating its ten year anniversary, more galleries have filled in around the Seminole Heights location.

So many galleries joined St. Pete’s Second Saturday Art Walk, people needed to hop on trolleys to see everything. Art walks emerged throughout Tampa Bay. Today, you can find one every weekend.

Artist Sal St. Germain (far left) guides Connie Wilson (second from left) and Ruth Kamide (center) on the Warehouse Arts District Association Trolley Tour, which took hundreds of patrons to a dozen galleries and studios in St. Petersburg's Warehouse District during the Second Saturday Gallery Walk in 2013. [ Tampa Bay Times (2013) ]

Ten years ago, the walls of Tampa Bay were blank. Now, they’re filled with hundreds of murals, thanks in part to St. Petersburg’s Shine Mural Festival. And murals have blossomed in Tampa and northern Pinellas county.

Tampa artist, Princess Smith, 34, works on her mural, a copy of a painting she created of her daughter, Miah, 12 on Oct. 23, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

The Dalí Museum relocated to its state of the art building in 2011, and the museum is now planning a $38 million expansion. With the addition of Imagine Museum and the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, and the upcoming Museum of the American Arts and Craft Movement, St. Petersburg has six art museums.

Visitor Jim Ackerman, 48, of Grand Ripids, MI., came dressed to the grand opening of the new Dali Museum with his Dali hat, tee shirt and fake mustache in 2011. [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]

Jeff and Penny Vinik’s dedication to the arts brought the immersive installations The Beach Tampa and The Art of the Brick to Tampa for viewers to experience for free.

The Art of the Brick Lego exhibit in Tampa in 2017, sponsored by the Vinik Family Foundation. [ LUIS SANTANA | Tampa Bay Times ]

The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg’s recent acquisition of a painting by Obama portraitist Kehinde Wiley is a major gain for Tampa Bay.

Dr. Stanton Thomas, Curator of Collections and Exhibits for the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, inspects a newly acquired painting by world-renowned artist Kehinde Wiley, entitled Leviathan Zodiac (The World Stage: Israel). The piece was purchased from the private collection of Blake Byrne, Los Angeles. The MFA purchased the painting with funds donated by the Collectors Circle for its 25th Anniversary with additional funds from James G. Sweeny. The painting is a 2011, oil and gold enamel on canvas, will be presented for public display in January 2020. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | Times ]

And there’s proof in numbers. The 2016 economic impact study of arts and culture in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties found nearly $675,000,000 in expenditures by nonprofits and their audiences, staggeringly above the national median of about $35 million.

Five memorable museum exhibits, 2010-2019

1. “Yayoi Kusama: Love Is Calling”

The Vinik Family Foundation brought a mirrored “infinity room” from one of the world’s most iconic living artists in 2018.

2. “My Generation: Young Chinese Artists”

The first U.S. exhibition to focus solely on the new post-Mao generation of Chinese artists made history with its debut in Tampa Bay and was shown at both the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg and the Tampa Museum of Art in 2014.

Artist Sun Xun works on an installation at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts' "My Generation: Young Chinese Artists" exhibition in 2014. [ Tampa Bay Times (2014) ]

3. “Skyway”

The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Tampa Museum of Art and the Ringling simultaneously presented works by local artists in 2017, showing the importance of cultural institutions. This returns in 2020 with a new round of artists and the inclusion of the University of South Florida’s Contemporary Art Museum.

4. “Midnight in Paris: Surrealism at the Crossroads, 1929”

Currently on display, the movement’s turning point is told through a host of works from leading artists from the Centre Pompidou, in Paris. The Dalí is the exclusive U.S. venue for this exhibition.

5. “CAM @25: Social Engagement”

For its 25th anniversary in 2014, USF’s Contemporary Art Museum focused on showcasing artists whose work seeks social change.