City of the Arts
The arts influence on the St. Petersburg lifestyle and economy cannot be overstated. Creativity permeates the city as much as the sunshine.
St. Petersburg is more than just a place to see famous works of art. It’s a place where art comes to life. The city is filled with artists working in all mediums. There are five designated arts districts in St. Petersburg, and a trolley will take you to each of them on the second Saturday of every month during ArtWalk.
Recognizing the economic significance of the arts, in recent years the city government has pitched in to foster its growth. The city employs an official liaison to the arts community and even adopted zoning laws friendly to the commerce of art. In 2016, the city designated two neighborhoods as artist enclaves allowing artist residents to sell their work from their home studios and host a limited number of events throughout the year.
The Arts Alliance together with community art stakeholders and the city marketing department crafted an Art Collectors Guide to promote local artists’ work to art collectors outside of the area.
The city’s biggest arts success story of late grew organically when a few artists began moving their studios into what was mostly an empty industrial area southwest of downtown. A handful of artists formed the non-profit Warehouse Arts Association and purchased land and empty warehouses in 2014 with the goal of ensuring low rent studio space for many others.
Through fundraisers, donations and grants, the association raised more than $1 million to transform the property into the ArtsXchange, which opened in the fall of 2017. More than 500 artists applied for the 29 available spaces, some from as far away as Maine. Known as the Warehouse Arts District, the wider enclave is studio home to more than 140 working artists and counting.
In addition to St. Petersburg’s wealth of visual arts, it has a vibrant performance and literary arts community. Numerous professional theater troupes, the Florida Orchestra (Florida’s largest), the St. Petersburg Opera Company, several professional dance groups, One City Chorus, the Sunscreen Film Festival, spoken word events and the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading entertain and enrich local audiences throughout the city.
Performing arts venues range from small non-profits like freeFall Theatre to the city’s 2,031-seat Mahaffey Theater overlooking Tampa Bay. There are flex spaces such as Studio@620, which hosts art events ranging from cultural photography exhibits to poetry readings to modern dance performances.
Given the mild weather, some performances occur under the stars. The St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival is annually held in the city’s downtown Williams Park, and the Florida Orchestra often performs free Pops in the Park concerts.
The area has also experienced a growth in talent, part homegrown and part transplants who bailed out of the expensive mega arts centers of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“At a certain point, it reached critical mass,” Paul Wilborn, executive director of the Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College says of the city’s performing arts scene. The Palladium presents primarily local performances and has hit record attendance numbers.