Looking beyond Beaches and Baseball

Article excerpt

St. Petersburg's art galleries and museums are giving this coastal city's other favorite attractions--namely its beaches and professional baseball--a run for their money.

"The arts have really been a factor in this becoming a living downtown again," said Ann Wykell, St. Peterburg's cultural affairs manager. A recent economic impact study by Americans for the Arts found the city's nonprofit arts organizations--which spend about $32 million each year--leverage another $61 million in tourist dollars.

St. Petersburg is located along Florida's Gulf Coast and has a population of about 270,000 people. A five-county region with a population of three million people orbits the cities of St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa and Sarasota. The area has long been a favorite spot for baseball fans since several major league teams practice here during the summer.

The city's downtown buildings escaped the wrecking ball during the urban renewal craze of the 1970s and are now home to dozens of artists and galleries.

Marylyn Lowe, owner of Soho South Arts Complex, an art, framing and gift gallery, said she is benefiting from a recent revitalization of a 10-block area along Central Avenue known as the Grand Central District. More than 20 gallery owners in the district have combined their marketing efforts by forming the Downtown Arts Association, which publishes a gallery and museum guide and hosts gallery walks on the second Saturday of each month.

"St. Pete is now known as the city of the arts," Lowe said. Seven years ago, she and her husband, Bob, bought and refurbished the Soho South property that--like most Central Avenue galleries--has artists' apartments upstairs. "It's such a conducive atmosphere for the arts that everyone wants to live here," Lowe said.

A block away, artist and gallery owner Fred Szabries paints nudes on aluminum. He opened his space five years ago, sells locally and internationally, and shares gallery space with friends eager to display in the district. "It's kind of a burgeoning area because the rents are a little cheaper here," Szabries said.

St. Petersburg Surreal

Resource sharing is what distinguishes the arts community here, said Kathy White, marketing and administration director at the city's Salvador Dali Museum. "It's just a nice, cooperative group" said White, who is busy promoting events commemorating Dali's 100th birthday.

Through August, the museum is presenting "Dali's Centennial: The American Collection," a comprehensive exhibition of Dali paintings, drawings and recent acquisitions, including his sculptures, birth certificate, school grades and handwritten manuscripts.

In March, the museum will host the first-ever American conference on the artist's work. And next year, the Dali will break ground on a $6 million expansion that will add 1,500 square feet of exhibit space.

The city's Museum of Fine Arts contains more than 4,000 works by artists such as Monet, Gauguin, Renoir, Morisot, Cezanne and O'Keeffe. …