From the Guest Editor,
When there is no threshold, there can be no fear of stepping across it.
Art can be a transformative experience, even more so when it unexpectedly lands at your feet. And more often than not, said art is landing at our feet not in a museum, theater or concert hall, but in the city’s greenways, alleys and outdoor spaces.
Art that places itself squarely in the social sphere — declaring that public spaces can accommodate art for the many rather than the few — can transform how we move through our city.
Our murals have forever altered the way I inhabit St. Pete — and other cities. They are my way finders, my reasons for impromptu detours, instantly identifiable meeting places, an unexpected friend peeking around a corner. They are part of the treasured store of St. Pete memories I’ve acquired over the years, and while businesses may change hands or inventory, I imagine I’ll always remember Hoxxoh’s spiral graph on Central Avenue, around 20th or so, or the hidden Monsanto wall by Pixel Pancho down behind the Trop.
But murals are not the only examples of art activating our public spaces. In the stories accompanying this essay, our Creative Pinellas writers have taken a deep dive into the art and artists who have removed barriers to access that so commonly define the arts.
Absent art schools and a thriving gallery culture, artists here have honed their craft in the public eye, through group shows in DIY spaces and on bar walls, to public art education on the NOMAD Art Studio, Bar@548, or at Green Bench’s new Drafts + Draw initiative. This public art practice, and the resulting work, tantalizingly allows for an expanded definition of where art and artists belong. Placing art on the street renders it both priceless and banal — stopping a lucky few in their tracks while hundreds more stroll carelessly past.
As Julie Garisto mentions in her Gateway Arts article, one art experience can foster a deeper appreciation the next time. Our year-round slate of public facing arts events offers a seamless path, if one chooses to take it, to more traditional arts experiences. We are fortunate to be surrounded both by gateway arts events and institutions celebrating the pinnacle of artistic creation. We are, with the proposed Janet Echelman piece for the Pier that Daniel Veintimilla speaks to, placing ourselves firmly in both worlds.
Both Danny Olda and David Morris eloquently speak about the intersection of activism and the arts. There is no better way to explore the power of the arts as a catalyst for social change than through the lens of queer activism and artists. Mickalene Thomas. Isaac Julien. Alice Neel. Mapplethorpe. They, and so many others, expanded our understanding of the human experience, leading to as David Morris says “… a common humanity, however and whoever we love.”
What a pleasure to see art through their lens.
My lens, despite a lifetime of working in the arts, is much more simple. And usually waterlogged. More times than I’d like to admit, I’ve been moved to tears by art. A Basquiat hanging on the wall of the Brooklyn Museum. The world premiere of a film about queer Orthodox Jews. Seeing Patty Hearst introduce Citizen Kane at a Bryant Park film screening. Oddly, peering into Castro’s boots in the Museum of the Revolution.
More sweaty musical performances in more cities and countries than I could ever count. Patti Smith at CBGB. Jazz at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam.
We all deserve those experiences, whether you travel the world or enjoy them in your own backyard. We no longer, as in the early days of museums, need to be a member of the ruling class to enjoy the arts.
We are now, thanks to the artists and visionaries who call this area home, witness to daily feats of artistic expression.
These are the unexpected graces our city offers us; the gifts we are given for merely walking down the street.
May we continue to enjoy them for years to come.