1. Visual Arts

St. Pete's big art is back with the 2016 SHINE Mural Festival

Mural artist Todd Frain gets his base coat down with the help of Creative Clay client Ali Vasquez on a large mural he's starting at 2914 1st. Ave. N. in St. Petersburg.
Mural artist Todd Frain gets his base coat down with the help of Creative Clay client Ali Vasquez on a large mural he's starting at 2914 1st. Ave. N. in St. Petersburg.
Published Aug. 31, 2016

John Collins will not have to scramble for a forklift this week and for that, he is thankful.

Collins, executive director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, is a key organizer of the 2016 SHINE Mural Festival which kicks off today with 19 professional local, national and international muralists painting the town with 16 works.

The 2015 SHINE festival was a huge success, but some behind-the-scenes glitches had Collins and artist and SHINE curator Leon Bedore, better known as Tes One, hustling around the various sites resolving misunderstandings (a building's tenant, for example, had given permission to paint a wall but the owner balked) and MIA equipment (the forklift).

This year, everything so far seems pretty much buttoned down. "We learned a lot from the first year," Collins said. "It was easier, with more awareness."

SHINE 2015 went far in educating the public about mural culture. Murals aren't graffiti, which are illegal in most cities. They're commissioned works. St. Petersburg has an ordinance limiting sign size so the murals can't be overt advertising. They're art, and it can be difficult for a building's owner to turn an entire wall over to artistic expression. Last year, the committee actively solicited locations from wary owners and were often turned down.

"We had 30 walls offered for consideration this year," Collins said, so they had choices.

"I do believe we were able to demonstrate this concept (last year)," Bedore said. "They're all new walls; we didn't have to paint over any of last year's murals. All but one are still up."

Most will be located in the Central Arts District in downtown St. Petersburg, as they were last year; walls further west will also be in play.

• • •

One of the murals won't be on a wall. Cecilia Lueza is painting the intersection of Central Avenue and Fifth Street.

She does traditional painting and sculpture and lots of large-scale public art, but street painting has become something of a signature technique.

Lueza painted three murals in Broward County. There were so many accidents at a particular intersection, she said, the transportation department put out a call to artists, thinking a mural would calm traffic.

She begins Monday at about 9 a.m. at the opening party and has just five hours to transform 39,000 square feet from drab asphalt to a vibrant abstract design before the intersection is reopened to traffic.

"It's different from a wall mural," Lueza said. "You have to mix the paint with sand to make its surface safer" and non-slippery.

One of the tenets of mural painting is that it's probably not going to last for a variety of reasons. Like most muralists, Lueza has come to terms with murals' ephemeral nature. She knows her street mural will have a much shorter life span due to wear and tear.

"I've been okay with the idea for a long time," she said. "At first you take it personally, but you know it's a public space and things will change."

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• • •

This year's festival includes five community collaborations. One is with Creative Clay, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities in the arts for people with disabilities and more general outreach for the community.

Ali Vasquez, a Creative Clay client, and Todd Frain, an artist and instructor at the agency, are tackling the front wall of the Academy of Ballet, 2914 1st Ave. N. The concrete wall is separated into four panels so four whimsical creatures drawn by Vasquez in bright colors will cover them. She studied art in high school and has sold her paintings at Creative Clay.

Frain, who has a degree in graphic design, began volunteering there six years ago and was soon hired as a teacher. The two have worked together ever since. They are painting the mural background together, but he will project her images on the wall and paint them in according to her color scheme.

"I don't want to do it free hand because I want them to replicate what she does."

About half of the SHINE artists are from the Tampa Bay region. Bedore said there was an open call specifically for St. Petersburg artists "because we want to highlight the talent we have right here." Other artists were invited "because this is a curated event, based on skill, talent and diversity of work. We didn't want similar styles. We don't expect everyone to love every mural but to give them a wide range."

To provide more opportunity, the committee decided not to re-invite artists from 2015 unless, like Ya La'Ford, they are doing a community mural project. And, new this year, artists will receive stipends of about $1,000.

They will also be given supplies, meals and, if from out of town, hotel accommodations and transportation. The budget, including in-kind donations, is about $100,000, Collins said. The city give SHINE a $25,000 grant and the remainder was raised from private sources.

The event has received discounted plane tickets, 50 free hotel nights plus another 50 heavily discounted, free and discounted paint, lots of food and beverages. And volunteers, many volunteers, to take artists back and forth, bring food, put events together and be just general go-to folks when a need arises.

"St. Petersburg is a perfect profile for this event," Bedore said. "We have so many talented artists and we can celebrate that outside, free. It's amazing to watch people react to the murals, to bring people from out of town to see them. Now it's part of their hometown."