Surrounded by vibrant shops and restaurants, the intersection of St. Petersburg’s Central Avenue and 25th Street became even more colorful, when an LGBTQ Pride-themed, rainbow-striped mural was painted there on July 29.
The Grand Central District is a fitting location for the mural, as the gay-friendly neighborhood was the birthplace of the first St. Pete Pride parade and festival in 2003. The parade moved to Beach Drive a few years ago, but the festival continues to be held in the neighborhood.
June was Pride month, but festivities were canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, local businesses flew Pride flags and rainbow-striped banners hang throughout the neighborhood.
Jim Nixon, who is the city of St. Petersburg’s Mayor’s Office LGBT liaison, said that the idea for a rainbow crosswalk has been in the works for four years, but ran into road blocks by the Florida Department of Transportation because of its ban on use of nonuniform colors in crosswalks.
But since then, an intersection mural at Central Avenue and Fifth Street by Cecilia Lueza was approved and painted for the Shine Mural Festival and has been a successful tool in slowing the traffic down.
So they pivoted to the idea of a rainbow intersection mural. Nixon and his team worked with the Florida Department of Transportation until they received the approval.
“We’re a city of murals,” Nixon said. “Why not consider that approach?”
Although he circled in the assistance of Wayne Atherholt, the Mayor’s Office director of cultural affairs, and John Collins, director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, Nixon said the mural wasn’t necessarily something the city would fund, although the city approved the mural. So they approached St. Pete Pride to host a fundraiser during June. The organization raised $7,600 from the community, enough to not only paint the mural but also to preserve it for years to come.
It was originally to be painted during June, for Pride month, but logistically it couldn’t happen until July. However, during June, many St. Petersburg institutions, including Tropicana Field and the Museum of Fine Arts, participated in Light Up St. Pete, shining rainbow-colored lights at night.
“You can’t cancel Pride,” Nixon said.
For the mural’s design, Nixon said they wanted to do something important during the current social climate that would be inclusive not only to the LGBTQ community, but also to people of color and the trans community.
“We need actions of solidarity and they must outmatch virtue signaling,” Nixon said in an email. “As we see a rise in the prominence of racist and transphobic rhetoric in the U.S., awareness must lead to positive change.”
So they riffed on the new version of the Pride flag, called the Progressive Pride flag, which includes the colors pink and blue to represent trans people and the colors black, brown and white. They modified the order of the stripes so that white was next to black. Hence the title, the Progressive Pride mural.
Despite all the planning, the painting of the mural came together rather quickly, in a matter of six hours, which was necessary for the length of time the street closure permit allowed.
St. Petersburg artist Andrea Pawlisz was tapped to be the lead artist on the project. She assembled a roster of LGBTQ artists, who came in waves over the course of the night and included her good friend Chad Mize.
An LGBTQ business, Gulfport Guys, was hired to pressure wash the intersection before the artists started laying out 84.9 inches of straight lines.
Many volunteers pitched in, including Brian Longstreth, who organized the first St. Pete Pride Festival. Pawlisz said that a random guy passing by on a skateboard even joined the effort.
And Mayor Rick Kriseman came by to pitch in.
Pawlisz has a special relationship with the mayor. He officiated her marriage to her wife, making them the first lesbian couple to be married in St. Petersburg.
Nixon said it’s important to recognize the contributions that the city administration and the mayor have made to creating an inclusive city. He cited Kriseman’s 2014 proclamation that June is Pride month in St. Petersburg.
“This is a moment to recognize the rich history of the LGBTQ community in St. Pete. We’ve come so far but we have so much more to do,” Nixon said of the mural. “These are the things that anchor the passion of our city. These are the things that make the sun shine on St. Pete.”
Pawlisz said she didn’t realize the impact the mural would have until posts about it started blowing up on social media. “You never know how far-reaching something you do can go,” she said.
She said she wanted to create “loving thoughts for humanity to move our city forward.”
“It’s a great art town, with support from our great leaders. I’m able to make an impact here. We’re making really good progress.”