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St. Petersburg gallery focuses on African, Caribbean art

Chris Roberts, who goes by Brain Storm, is the current featured artist at Gallerie 909 in St. Petersburg’s Midtown area. Gallerie 909 was recently recognized as one of the area’s top five art galleries by readers of the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
Chris Roberts, who goes by Brain Storm, is the current featured artist at Gallerie 909 in St. Petersburg’s Midtown area. Gallerie 909 was recently recognized as one of the area’s top five art galleries by readers of the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
Published Jan. 28, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — The new art gallery on St. Petersburg's historic 22nd Street S features art, of course — specifically African and Caribbean art. But depending on when you stop in, owner Carla Bristol has other offerings in her Gallerie 909.

Musical instruments are scattered about the room, ready for impromptu jam sessions.

There are spoken-word performances from 4 to 6 p.m. on Sundays, professional photo shoots every third Saturday, wine tastings and musical performances.

There's even something for teenage boys. Bristol says sagging pants — a style statement for some in urban culture — are demeaning. Young men who sign a pledge to keep their pants pulled up get a "U Don't Have to Sag to Have Swag" card and free ice cream. So far, at least six have made the pledge.

For Bristol, 46, a sense of community is as important as an appreciation of art.

"This place shows importance for both the community and art," she said. "To me, one of the words that I value most is exposure. I want to expose others (to art) and I want to stay relevant with what's needed in the community."

Bristol was born in Guyana on the northern coast of South America. She was 11 when her family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. A desire for warmer weather prompted her to move to St. Petersburg in 1996.

In April, she opened the gallery in one of the old buildings along 22nd Street S that entrepreneurs Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy have bought and restored.

During the days of segregation, 22nd Street — "The Deuces" — was the main street of a thriving black community. In its heyday during the late 1950s and early 1960s, more than 100 businesses dotted the neighborhood.

Then decline and decay set in with the coming of integration, drug trafficking and Interstate 275, which in the late 1970s effectively cut the neighborhood in two. In recent years, the city and private business people like the Brayboys have sought to revive the area.

Gallerie 909 features artists from around the world. Every four to six weeks a new artist is featured. A variety of artwork — ceramics, paintings, sculptures, furniture and even some jewelry — is showcased.

Bristol stresses African and Caribbean art.

"I find that although we have a lot of galleries here in St. Pete, none of them specifically feature African or Caribbean art," she said. "They may carry a small collection of it, but that's it. I wanted a place to showcase 'black art' because it deserves to be shown."

Gallerie 909 got its name because of its address, but Bristol incorporated the uncommon spelling because she wanted a French influence.

"I knew that the restaurant next door was going to be a Creole restaurant so I decided to spell it as Gallerie," she said.

In June, Bristol left her job as an account manager at a business services company so she could focus on Gallerie 909.

"I am an art enthusiast. I love art," said Bristol, who has filled her home with paintings. When she isn't at Gallerie 909, Bristol is spending time with her 10-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son.

Gallerie 909 was recently recognized as one of the area's top five art galleries by readers of the Tampa Bay Business Journal in the paper's annual Best in the Biz: Readers' Choice Awards. Some 15,000 votes were tallied to determine the winners. The Dalí Museum, the Chihuly Collection and the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg and the Michael Murphy Gallery in Tampa also were recognized.

Kelly Miyar is a reporter in the Neighborhood News Bureau at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Contact her at (954) 815-0854.

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