Monday, April 10, 2017

St. Petersburg's Warehouse Arts District: Inspiration and Lessons for the Twin Ports

This weekend I visited the Warehouse Arts District in St. Petersburg with an eye to measuring the progress that's been made in our developing Twin Ports arts scene. I have to say that what I saw left me impressed and inspired. Now that Duluth leadership has officially designated a section of Downtown as an arts district, I've been paying increased attention to how cities are revitalizing their public spaces. Here are a few initial points I wanted to note.

1. I was surprised at how large an area of the city is designated the Arts District. Scroll down to see the map.

2. I was surprised by the volume of public art on building exteriors and in alleys.
When I inquired about this, wanting to know how many of these very high profile murals were generated by public money, the answer was "very little." Much of it was produced by volunteers. Eventually international competitions were organized with funding available to pay artists who were incentivized to come from elsewhere to leave their marks.

3. I was surprised at how relatively new this St. Petersburg Arts District was. The official designation was given in 2012.

4. I was not surprised at how vibrant this part of the city felt as I meandered through its galleries and shops.

5. I saw numerous parallels to what we have been doing in Duluth and Superior. For example, during the in advance of the Tower Avenue renovation a few years ago the City of Superior paid artist a stipend to paint murals on the backs of businesses so that people could locate these places and business would not be overly strained by the inconvenience of not having a front entrance. Also, the art galleries all celebrate Second Saturdays, similar to the Second Fridays we were doing in Duluth here for a few years after the Ochre Ghost, Washington Galleries and PROVE began working in concert. I know that Superior leaders were discussing banners for the light poles and have done the initial prep for this. St. Petersburg has these same banners installed.

6. Not all the art in St. Petersburg is in "the District." The Salvador Dali museum down on the waterfront is referenced in some of these banners, but is not officially connected. In the same way the Duluth Art Institute and the Tweed Museum of Art fall outside the official district, though will remain important influences on what happens here. the DAI has already held two exhibitions at Studio 3 West on the westernmost rim of the official downtown artspace.

7. The St. Petersburg Arts District is an official organization with an extensive website and membership requirements. The organization is an official non-profit 501(c)3. Here in Duluth a valiant effort was made to organize artists and the various arts organizations under the rubric Twin Ports Arts Align. The efforts were stalled at a critical juncture. (Should we become a non-profit? Perhaps we need a paid staff member or members?) Special shout-out to Bill Payne and Crystal Pelkey. Thank you for your sharing your vision and the sacrifices you made.*


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Well here are are some of the many murals I saw on Saturday:






I'll share more from the St. Petersburg Warehouse Arts District Wednesday. This is a town where art really does go on all around you. On and on and on and on. Get into it.

* There were really many others who served sacrificially. I can't list them all because I would leave out someone significant. Everyone who was there will agree that Bill and Crystal deserve this special recognition. 

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