Breaks Street Art Stigma
and Invites Acceptance
. . .
Nuzzled in a back alley of Pinellas Park’s arts district, music blared through the street as local musicians performed and local (and visiting) visual artists collected to celebrate the phenomena known as street art or graffiti.
Derek Donnelly, a.k.a. Saint Paints, opened his studio — The Cove, and the outdoor area, Saint Paint Arts – to street artists, local vendors, musicians and art appreciators of all ages to gather together for a monumental display of art on September 22 and 23 from 6-11 pm.
This year’s Letter Headz event marks the third annual celebration. Both nights invited works from over 50 artists and insights into live creations of street art.
With Donnelly and the gathering’s curator, Tasko, roaming around, guests found an approachable, all-ages, friendly-faced event. Artists spray painted novel creations on the side of The Cove, on the fences surrounding the building and on trailers, as eager-eyed kids and aspiring artists walked up to the street artists with inquiries.
Inside the Cove, 104 submissions from artists around the U.S. peppered the wall with variegated displays of lettered art on all sizes of cardboard. In Saint Paint Arts, street artists lent their talents to hooded frogs, beaver-esque creations on the fences, and an airbrushed gaggle of aliens shouting “good vibes only” that graced a large trailer in the front of The Cove — a perfect welcome statement for the attendees and artists.
“It’s a giant graffiti show, and these are pretty much all graffiti writers I know or are friends of friends, and we set a theme for the year,” Tasko says.
The curators and organizers decide on the theme, relay that information to the artists, and wait for the mail. This year, Tasko informed artists of the theme – Letters — a love letter to the Alphabet Movement, demonstrating each artist’s understanding and perception of hand-styled lettering — and received 104 submissions on upcycled cardboard boxes. Last year, the event welcomed 71 street sign art pieces for display.
“There’s not a lot of graffiti events – like actual graffiti, lettering events – and I think this kind of showcases that side of the spray paint in our culture. So the public eye that doesn’t get to see a lot of this, and also a lot of the graffiti writers don’t get to put stuff in shows [collide at this event],” Tasko explains. He adds that the show will shift society’s perspective of graffiti thanks to the welcoming environment.
Aside from live spraypainting, live music and vendors soliciting their unique art, a caricature artist sat down for free commissions, with tips, of course.
Originally from Sweden, Lars-Erik Robinson grew up as a graffiti writer. He began exploring his adoration for the art form in Sweden in the ’80s, surrounded by old-school hip-hop and letter-styled street art.
Now, the local artist and the owner of LarsER Arts attends local events and shares his gift with visitors. At Letter Headz, he encouraged guests to sit back as he sketched their exaggerated portraits in an impressive, quick time frame.
“I feel like I’m safe here. I feel like I’m with my safe people. It’s a great community where I can just be free and do what I love to do, and I’m not worried about anybody coming up and jumping on me because they’re my people,” Robinson states.
“I think street art is already becoming really popular. I mean, back in the day, obviously, it got a stigma of being a bad thing, but this is just showing the light to the community that it doesn’t always have to be negative,” Robinson shares.
As the press release for the Letter Headz event reads, “This show will display the artists as individuals but at its core, the love of ‘Letters’ and the possibilities of creating, affirming community identity, solidarity and pride through the art of Graffiti.”
With a prosperous two-day event, Letter Headz succeeded in their mission.