Now in its third year, the SHINE Mural Festival — equal parts Art in Public Places, funky plein air demo and city beautification project — is a prestigious stop for an intertwining, international network of mural artists. SHINE (and St. Petersburg) have become go-to destinations for insanely talented paint-slingers who like to make their statements bold and big.
Sixteen artists, with 16 colorfully diverse styles and techniques, will descend on the city October 5-14 to completely re-imagine 16 otherwise uninteresting walls.
Homegrown mural artist Tes One (aka Leon Bedore) co-founded SHINE in 2015, which is produced by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance through a seed grant from the City of St. Petersburg.
In 2014, "there was no point of reference — a public art project, in this city, on this scale," he says. "It was difficult for people to grasp what we wanted to do — letting art live in the city, for art’s sake. It’s not commissioned work, it’s not signage, it’s not graffiti.
“Fast-forward to three years later, not only do they understand it, but we have businesses who are very eager to be a part of the project, as well as artists.”
Tes One and his team carefully curate each year's crop of artists to ensure a broad palette of styles — vibrant and alive — for St. Pete surfaces.
“It might be difficult to explain at first, but once you see it, you get it,” he explains. “Even if the type of work you’re looking at might not be your particular style, what you can’t deny is that somebody cared about this. They put their heart and soul into it, and their energy, and it turns this formerly beige wall into this very unique landmark for the city.”
"SHINE makes St. Petersburg cool," offers Arts Alliance Executive Director John Collins. "And what does that mean? I think it means developers want to come in and build here. It draws attention to us.
"It's not just the mural scene — there's some incredible dance and theater going on now, and there's quite the indie music scene. Those are the things that make it cool so that when cities want to attract the folks they want to live and work here, these are the things they come here for. No one comes here because we have good garbage service, fine hospitals and fine schools. Although we do. People come here because they go, 'Wow, this is a really cool place to be.'"
The Arts Alliance, Collins, Bedore and the SHINE board are particular about their artists’ creative freedom. They match each artist with a business, and they show the artist’s existing work to the business owner, but there are no directives about what to paint — or what not to paint.
“This is just letting an artist come here, share their voice, gift the city with their unique perspective and leave something behind for us that represents their work,” Bedore says. “We make it clear that this isn’t something where you tell the artist, ‘Oh, I would love to see a sunset,’ or whatever it is. We let the artists do their thing as much as possible.”
The Arts Alliance foots the bill for each SHINE artist’s full expenses, including travel, food, lodging and supplies. Each is also given a $1,000 stipend.
The public is welcome to watch (see the 2017 SHINE map for details), and the process has proven invaluable for Tampa Bay artists as well.
“We have such an amazing local art community here,” enthuses Bedore. “Not only do people come out and watch the artists live, as they’re painting, some of our local talent will watch and learn from these artists. You will witness very, very different techniques — somebody will use a projector over here, somebody will sketch freehand over there, you’ll see all these different styles of how people paint murals.”
Bedore grew up in St. Pete.
“I started painting walls here before I had permission to,” he laughs.
Today, he’s a full-time professional artist and designer. A mural he created (along with fellow SHINE curator Chris Parks, aka Palehorse) on the back wall of the State Theatre just passed its five-year anniversary. It was one of the city’s first prominent non-commercial art murals.
There's always the possibility, of course, that the art will get ... well, damaged.
"They are street artists," Collins explains. "They all understand that it's street art, and anything can happen. If a mural is tagged, for example, we'll try to contact the artist — and if the artist wants, they can come and fix it. We have a little money set aside for that. In truth, it's only happened once, and we took care of it. And the paint these days is incredibly strong and enduring."
The SHINE brain trust is thinking long-term. They’re quite aware that these works will likely be around, for residents to enjoy and appreciate, for years to come. In fact, that’s why they only invite 15 or 16 artists each time around.
“We’re not looking to paint every single wall in one weekend,” Bedore says. “We’d rather take our time, have artists come visit us — we can showcase them better when it’s a smaller number – and we’re excited to be something that progresses, rather than ‘OK, here’s everything we could find.’”
Bill DeYoung was born in St. Pete and spent the first 22 years of his life here. After a long time as an arts and entertainment journalist at newspapers around Florida (plus one in Savannah, Ga.) he returned to his hometown in 2014. He is the author of Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down and the forthcoming Phil Gernhard, Record Man. Learn more here.