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App turns St. Petersburg’s murals into a drive-in theater

You can pull up and view multiple St. Petersburg murals and learn the stories behind them.

St. Petersburg has gained a reputation for its murals, and now there’s a scavenger hunt of sorts where you can use an app to find the many ways artists have decorated the city’s walls.

Since 2015, the St. Petersburg Shine Mural Festival has welcomed artists from around the globe to create world-class murals. Now, an upgrade to the PixelStix app has turned some of the more than 80 murals from the festival into a drive-in theater.

An untitled piece by Bekky Beukkes at 11th Street and First Avenue N, by Red Mesa Mercado, is pictured in October 2018. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Tampa Bay Times ]

Through the use of smartphones and touch pads, PixelStix originally provided stories about the murals and their artists. Now, PixelStix creator Matthew Walker and Shine have chosen nine select murals for the Shine Drive-In Mural Theater.

“Our goal is to allow the story behind each mural and the artist that created it to be available to enjoy from the safety of your car,” Walker said. “It truly adds a deeper level of appreciating the murals.”

It works similar to a museum’s self-guided map. Download the free PixelStix app on your phone and search for “Drive-In Mural Theater.” Follow the map to a drive-in location. Park in a way that allows all passengers to view the murals. Then, you can use the app to listen to a three- to five-minute explanation of the mural. When you’re ready, hit the back button twice to return to the map and drive to your next location.

“PixelStix was originally born from an idea to put videos of a trip with my daughter in a kid-friendly photo album,” Walker said. “Using this technology as a way for artists to easily convey their story through their mural seemed like a natural fit.”

Murals were selected by proximity. They looked first for murals that are easily viewed in a drive-in style experience. Then they grouped those situated close enough together so that you can view at least two murals from one parking spot.

Mural artist Jason Noto of Brooklyn, N.Y., works on his Coney Island-themed mural on the side of the Coney Island Sandwich Shop in St. Petersburg for the 2019 Shine Mural Festival. [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]

“We wanted to maximize on the experience at each stop,” said Jenee Priebe, assistant director of the Shine Mural Festival. “At most of the locations you can see at least two (murals). Some, you can see up to four."

The audio recording for the app is produced by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. Professional playwrights wrote the script, which is read by actor Eugenie Bondurant.

Shine Drive-In Mural Theater covers approximately 2 miles of downtown St. Petersburg. Murals can be found from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N to 29th Street (east to west) and from Third Avenue N to Third Avenue S.

“Public art is there for us to experience all the time,” Priebe said. “This is a creative way to encourage people to enjoy St. Petersburg’s mural gallery while safely distancing during COVID-19.”