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  1. Visual Arts

The new SPF15 festival will celebrate the arts in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's growing cultural footprint in its downtown will get bigger in September with a new festival that celebrates the arts in a broad-band way.

Mayor Rick Kriseman unveiled the ambitious outlines of SPF15 on Wednesday at a news conference at the Morean Center for Clay.

"We're building what we hope is a festival with worldwide recognition," he said, comparing its potential to Art Basel, an uber-gathering of artists, galleries and collectors held annually in Switzerland. The clever name should help catch people's attention at the least.

About 100 artists and professionals turned out for the news, including Hank Hine, director of the Dalí Museum; Kent Lydecker, director of the Museum of Fine Arts; Paul Wilborn, director of Palladium Theater; glass artist Duncan McClellan; sculptor Valerie Knaust; and Jeff Schorr, founder of Florida Craftsman House Gallery.

The festival runs Sept. 11-27 with a basic footprint set in the five designated arts districts. The city is collaborating with the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy and fundraising organization, and the Suncoasters, a civic group dating from 1956 that for decades hosted the Festival of States and, more recently, the Grand Prix Parade in the spring.

Dozens of visual and performing arts venues will be part of it, ranging from a new exhibition at the Morean Arts Center to the world premiere of St. Petersburg playwright Scavinold's Take Me Home at Studio@620. Many, but not all, will be free.

Kriseman emphasized that the pragmatic backbone of the event was to attract dollar-spending visitors, "not just a celebration but a selling to patrons."

The biggest component will probably be SHINE, a mural festival from Sept. 10 through 12, in which 14 buildings will be transformed with new murals created by regional and national artists.

"We have one artist coming from Italy," said Leon Bedore, who is known professionally as Tes One, and responsible for recruiting the muralists. "He's sponsored by the Audubon Society and is painting a wall of the U-Haul building downtown with local birds."

Most of the events, such as Second Saturday Art Walk on Sept. 12 and Free Museum Day on Sept. 26, aren't original or specific to SPF15, but the organizers say the big goal in its first year is to begin developing a marketing plan that will unify them as a cultural package so that the city is perceived beyond the region as having a broad and deep arts community and "the place to be in September," Kriseman said.

"Going forward, as it grows, we hope to develop more festival-specific events," said Wayne Atherholt, director of the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs.

Bob Lang, president of the Suncoasters, said the dates were chosen because they are among the slowest in the year for businesses, including galleries, restaurants and hotels.

Atherholt said $30,000 budgeted for the Suncoasters' spring events including the Grand Prix Parade, which have been discontinued due to decreased attendance, is being diverted to SPF15 and used for marketing. They're also lobbying potential sponsors.

Michele Tuegel, a longtime presence in the arts community who now has an eponymous gallery on Central Avenue, said she was here for the first year of Mainsail, the annual arts festival founded in 1976, and has watched the arts community grow.

"It's great, the city joining forces with the Suncoasters and the Arts Alliance," she said. "It all comes down to marketing."

Contact Lennie Bennett at lbennett@tampabay.com.

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