Moved by Art — Nomadic, Outdoors and On Tour
Pinellas artists achieve success with creativity in motion.
The dynamics of art in our postmodern society are uniquely varied. Our local art community is blessed with an enormous amount of opportunities within very eclectic art circles and galleries, especially in the seven collaborative districts of St. Petersburg.
A growing number of creative organizations are mobile and providing art that travels to you and not vice versa. This isn’t just happening at the installation level (though there are pieces that actually have locomotion or trigger sensors) but also by relocating at various Pinellas destinations and beyond.
Let’s start with world renowned Tampa-native sculptor Janet Echelman, best known for her otherworldly aerial nets that transform with wind and light. The art literally moves in its grandiosity, changing from being just a mere object to look at to a living environment you can get lost in. Her TED talk “Taking Imagination Seriously” has been translated into 34 languages with more than one million views. The city of St. Petersburg has agreed to bring one of her seven-figure sculptures to the new Pier District.
By contrast, Carrie Boucher’s NOMAD Art Bus democratizes art through mobility. Her ever-popular transport invites children and adults to create art projects both inside and on it. Boucher outlined some challenges and advantages to going mobile with art:
“Being mobile allows us to meet participants where they are, and the fact that our vehicle is a 34-foot bus allows for flexible use of the interior for storage and classroom space, and the area around the perimeter of the bus becomes extended instructional space as well. Also in regards to its size it is quite a presence when we’re on site. It calls people to participate.
The Urban Conga, founded by a local group of designers who took their architectural thesis to the next level, developing it into an award-winning design firm. Their main move: bringing interactive, recreational installations to a variety of public and private spaces, sparking activity, creativity, exploration and, bottom line, making people play.
Also, Urban Conga promotes free-choice learning, because self motivation is key, and a better urban environment in general, with fresh aesthetics and a modern functional approach. The organizers studied how humans tend to break their toys, so they figured out how to make their installations withstand a lot of abuse; they are very sturdy and their functionality prevails. Also UC focuses on creating conversation to ease the tension and allow folks from all types of backgrounds to interact with one another, so this is also art that moves you on a psychological level. Tweet the Urban Conga or email them firstname.lastname@example.org or go through their awesome website; they are very responsive.
Since Jack Kerouac lived out his final days on 5169 10th Ave. N., the Beat icon has been a favorite topic among local literati, with mentions of his adopted St. Petersburg hometown in of his works. Since then a multitude of literary events have sprouted around the iconoclast and his average block house, soon to be a museum. Events have been presented with the help of Friends of the Jack Kerouac House, a non-profit dedicated to maintaining the house and Kerouac’s legacy.
More recently Creative Pinellas Guest Editor Margaret Murray, a local film-fest trailblazer, Manager of Donor Development at the Museum of Fine Arts and all-around local scene sweetheart, started “On the Road” activities around the literary legend. Her bicycle tour, Kerouac in Paradise, provides attention to biographical detail, ever surprising riders with special guests, inspiring reads and historical quotes — so go put some air in your tires and keep an eye for the next artsy bike tour.
But don’t think it is so easy to manage, Murray enlightened us through the interwebs on the complexities of bike touring:
“The challenge, particular to the Kerouac ride, was how to bring St. Pete – as it was during Kerouac’s time – to life and keep it relevant to today’s audience. Once I began poring through old phone books and past editions of the St. Pete Times (on microfiche!), a clear and sometimes odd narrative began to appear. Realizing that residents of 1960s-era St. Pete enjoyed multiple book stores and movie theaters, some showing French films, became an important focus of the tour, in light of both Kerouac’s interest in the arts and the demise of small businesses. A challenge for any mobile or street-based activity is, of course, Florida’s ever-changing weather. One-hundred people on bicycles riding on city streets certainly adds an additional layer of complexity. Safety and comfort are the most important aspects of a ride; my partnership with the St. Pete Bike Co-Op has been invaluable in that regard. They bring a level of expertise to building a safe route and rider education that can’t be beat. The advantage is that you’re able to provide an element of fun to what is essentially a history lecture.”
To stay on the literary wave, we must mention KEEP ST. PETE LIT, one of the newer literary organizations (started in 2013) but quite dynamic and with a strong local presence. They are teaching a low-cost writing program mainly at the Morean Art Center where they have created a “small curated bookstore called BookSpace.” Maureen McDole and her team also lead a book club at the MFA and produce SunLit Festival in April. Without counting the multitude of literature programs, modern summer camps, open-mics and artistic partnerships, McDole features a number of roving events such as historic book tour in KSPL’s events calendar
In McDole’s words: “We partner with other organizations and businesses to create unique creative experiences of collaboration. This also allows our venues to be varied and our organization to be exposed to a wide variety of audiences. It creates a dynamic synergy of multiple creative elements. We love merging literature with other disciplines. That’s what happens when you read, and we translate that to life.”
It’s worth mentioning tomorrow that KEEP ST. PETE LIT is partnering with the Metta Center of St. Petersburg for a silent hour and a half of reading and writing, phones and all other electronics will be confiscated momentarily, for a peaceful atmosphere. Best of all it’s free, but the center accepts voluntary donations.
We cannot forget Wordier Than Thou as a pioneer open-mic organizer and literary art supporter. They are presenting their Grand Central Lit Crawl that stops at several bars where authors read and hang out. Surely, it will be rock ‘n’ roll.
Another artistic bike tour worth mentioning, and we hope it comes back once the weather gets more predictable, is Tour de Shine – Bike Mural Tour also led by St. Pete Bike Co-op and the SHINE St. Petersburg Mural Festival, the non-profit had their second year in September. Nothing better to illuminate the power of public art than a fun ride around all the new murals in St. Pete; some of them large and in plain view, some of them more hidden.
The idea of reading and interacting with art as a force of change is also a form of radical movement. Engaging with the community through a specific discipline — but also with others who may or may not share similar passions — mutates into rewarding collaborations with different ideas cross-pollinating and creating beautiful complex experiences, which might not necessarily hang on a wall but it stays in our hearts.