The 600-block is the heart of street art in St. Petersburg. The alleyways behind Central Ave. are covered in murals. 

Hundreds of murals paint the city streets of St. Petersburg, and Florida CraftArt, a downtown gallery and supporter of the arts, has one of the most popular murals on its wall. 

A mural completed in 2014 on Florida CraftArt’s fire escape developed into a full mural because local graffiti artists were constantly tagging the space. 

“The rich art scene in St. Petersburg certainly adds to the quality of life for the residents,” Janie Lorenz said, the business and membership manager at Florida CraftArt. “It also is a huge asset for driving travel and tourism. It is also an economic driver that attracts companies to relocate to the west coast of Florida.”

The mural, covering the height and length of the wall, is a brightly colored, abstract showcase of St. Petersburg’s SHINE Festival which brought 17 new murals to the city this month. 

James Hartzell is a St. Pete Muralist who grew up in Atlanta surrounded by graffiti in hard to reach places.

“The role murals and artists have played in the downtown revival of the area can’t be understated. I’ve heard criticism from some who feel there are too many murals though,” Hartzell said. 

Hartzell also spoke about the modern relationship between murals and graffiti in that murals also help with combating graffiti as most taggers or graffiti writers respect murals and tag elsewhere.

Hartzell painted his first mural, called the “Last Road Trip,” a tribute to Jack Kerouac at the Flamingo Sports Bar on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N.. He also painted the “V” in the Black Lives Matter mural at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in Midtown St. Petersburg and an olive tree for a family owned restaurant on Central Avenue as well as many others around the city. 

“My artwork is all about visual storytelling and is influenced by pop art, vintage illustration and typography,” Hartzell said. “The goal is to connect with people using humor, thought provoking themes or relaying a certain mood with color and typeface choices.”

Street art often depicts a political or social message and can be done in many different ways, such as using spray paint, LED lights, mosaics, stickers or stencils. 

Look for street art downtown between Central Avenue N and 1st Ave. N local artists have painted nearly every building, trash can and surface on this stretch. 

“Murals and public art can help us reimagine what urban and rural spaces can look like,” Hartzell said. 

The SHINE Mural Festival works to promote the impact of art in the public sphere by making something new out of something old, inspiring passersby to ask questions about the art they see and adding to the community. Murals help capture St. Petersburg’s colorful and lively culture by adding even more personalization and creativity to the streets. 

By the late 1980s to early 1990s, the city was in a state of rapid decline with many buildings and businesses on the 600-block of the Central Avenue strip being boarded up or abandoned. Local artists held shows to raise money and clean up the city. They decided to reestablish many of the storefronts on the 600-block with art galleries and the city created its monthly ArtWalk, which is an open-door visitation day for galleries. 

“Art helps people express themselves, acting much like a portal, whisking us off to a new place or showing us a part of ourselves we never knew or had forgotten existed,” Hartzell said. 

Florida CraftArt hosts walking tours of the murals on Saturday mornings and bike tours on the first Saturday of each month. A portion of proceeds are donated to  pay the guides to the St. Pete Arts Alliance to support the SHINE Mural Festival every October and to maintain current murals in the city. 

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