The art scenes of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa take visitors on an expansive, vibrant and intricate cultural and historical journey from past to present. Even the most passionate art enthusiasts will be continually impressed discovering grassroots to fine arts, underground to digital street art, Salvador Dali to student art and ballet to street dancing.
The arts are crucial to the identity of St. Pete. Working artists have long called the city home and fostered a vibrant, flourishing community. Beautiful and thought-provoking sights can be seen around every corner — whether it is street art like the funky murals or world-class museums like the Dali — and the performing arts such as theater and dance are very active throughout the city.
St. Pete has not just one or two, but seven diverse art districts that celebrate the work of Salvador Dali, Dale Chihuly, Western history, world-class ballet and orchestras and grassroots music and art.
“We are a city of world-class museums, outstanding performing artists and performing art venues, galleries, districts, visual artists, art-related organizations and art-related educational opportunities,” said Terry Marks, CEO of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. “Art draws us together, allows us to communicate what we know to be the truth.”
St. Pete’s commitment to the art community includes a comprehensive strategy to become the Southeastern United States’ creative epicenter. In 2021, St. Pete took a step toward that goal, opening the 40,000-square-foot Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, and the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to the American Arts and Crafts movement.
Artistically inclined visitors may find a collection of 500 murals — celebrated every October during the Shine Mural Festival — and talented musicians filling St. Pete as the lively backdrop for this community of artists. Download a map at stpetesartalliance.com and get going, or get out for Second Saturdays for a grand overview of the eclectic to the extraordinary.
Seven Arts Districts: One Arts Destination
- Waterfront District
Hop aboard the trolley at St. Pete’s Waterfront District, which has the distinct honor of the world-class Salvador Dali Museum, housing 2,100 pieces of the master’s work. The building, a geodesic glass bubble created by architect Yann Weymouth, is a work of art on its own.
Additional legends like Picasso and Van Gogh are exhibited at the Dali. DillyDally with Dali games, puzzles and craft activities are an everyday event at this landmark.
The Mahaffey Theater is a Tampa Bay destination for The Florida Orchestra. The Center for the Performing Arts, St. Petersburg Museum of History, James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, American State Theatre Company, Museum of Fine Arts are all central to the Waterfront District. Check out the new Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement here too.
- Central Arts District
Downtown St. Pete houses the Central Arts District, where independent artists, studios and galleries color the landscape. The famous glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly, including the iconic 20-foot entry piece created distinctly for the Chihuly Collection site by the still-living artist, are a permanent fixture in St. Pete. Admission to Chihuly includes access to the Morean Arts Center across the street, where dedicated glass artists work.
- Grand Central District
West of downtown is the Grand Central District, home to a mix of museums, galleries and antiques. Imagine Museum showcases the international world of glass art, and The Academy of Ballet Arts hosts both the St. Petersburg Ballet and St. Petersburg Folk Ensemble.
- The Edge District
The Edge District, along St. Pete’s award-winning Main Street, is described as a vibrant, eclectic community. Mixed into a tapestry of murals are several galleries. A collection of artists is found here, including those at the Leslie Currant Gallery.
“We’re very proud of who we represent (here). Glass sculpture, glasswork, metal work — something for everyone,” said owner Leslie Currant.
- Warehouse Arts District
Working artists find like-minded creatives in the Warehouse Art District, along 22nd Street South. Open to visitors, these shops and studios invite spectators to watch as they invent and create. Among the busy hub, Charlie Parker Pottery and Duncan McClellan Glass are well loved. The Morean Center for Clay, makers of high-quality pottery, is one of the largest working potteries in the Southeast and great place to pick up gifts.
- Deuces Live District
Adjacent to the Warehouse Art District is the Deuces Live District, where Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday once played. Celebrate the area and the African American experience with a historical walk, jazz show or performance at The Carter G. Woodson African American Museum. it is dedicated to civil rights activist, publisher, author and historian Dr. Carter Woodson.
- MLK North District
The MLK North District rounds out the menagerie of galleries and art districts. Small galleries and cafes run from 5th Avenue to 34th Avenue North. Visit the Mize Gallery or stop by The Banyan Tree, where artists and writers come together.
Clearwater is home to Capitol Theatre and Ruth Eckerd Hall, bringing all musical tastes together. Boney James, Molly Hatchet, Ricky Skaggs and comediennes like Kathleen Madigan are just a handful of entertainers who have graced the stages here. In the company of 2,000 additional artists each year, Travis Tritt, the Beach Boys and Jay Leno are some of the performers at the Richard B. Baumgardner Center for the Performing Arts.
Ranked No. 1 in the United States, Clearwater Beach is still riding the waves of success. An $84 million project will transform Coachman Park, a longstanding downtown park, into the expansive Imagine Clearwater, by a projected date of summer 2023. A focal point will be an all-new, 4,000-seat covered amphitheater, nestled into a public park that features various art installations among the beautiful landscaping, attractions and waterfront views.
On the east side of Clearwater is Safety Harbor, a bright and beautiful city with a rich community of artists. As is true for the rest of Greater Tampa Bay, the area’s scenic natural landscapes prove to be an inspiration for many local artists, from the tranquil bay to the bright blue Gulf of Mexico and everything in between.
The City clearly takes pride in its local arts community, with exhibits constantly in rotation at public buildings such as City Hall, the libraries, the Safety Harbor Museum & Cultural Center, several parks and more, with the Public Art Committee helping artists find just the right space to display their work.
Stroll through Main Street in downtown Safety Harbor and go on a Florida-esque scavenger hunt: A group of artists got together in 2011 and painted grapefruits on many of the buildings to celebrate the historic crop.
The small City of Dunedin, just north of Clearwater, is an idyllic place made even more beautiful through the arts. The laid-back coastal community proudly supports its local artists.
Events such as the First Friday Artwalk, festivals and arts and crafts shows complement year-round attractions like the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin History Museum and several other art galleries, which are splattered around town like paints on a palette. Street art brightens Dunedin buildings with the colorful blues and oranges so often seen in the area’s natural landscapes.
Showing a commitment to create and maintain public art, the City of Dunedin started the Dunedin Public Art Master Plan in 2018. Through this project, the City makes sure the public art that gives Dunedin its unique character unlike any other place around, stays preserved and enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. A community with a small-town vibe within the setting of a metropolitan area, the arts play a crucial role in defining what makes Dunedin stand apart.
The growth of public art and the move toward a “museum row” over the past 35 years in Tampa is astonishing. The thoughtful relocation of important Tampa museums has essentially created a “museum hop” along the Hillsborough River. Strung together with other popular destinations and an eight-acre Curtis M. Hixon Park complete with a splash pad, the Tampa Riverwalk holds a bounty of creative and cultural experiences.
Walk, bike or Segway from museum to museum on the Tampa Riverwalk. Begin at the Florida Aquarium where 20,000 sea creatures tickle the senses. Then stroll through 12,000 years of Tampa Tocobaga Native Americans, conquistadors and pirates of the past at the nearby Tampa Bay History Center.
The Florida Museum of Photographic Art is next on the Riverwalk. Unique to Tampa, the exhibits are a photographic journey with persuasive social messages. FMoPA exhibits sensitive subject matter, like a recent display depicting 85% of the worlds’ dried springs.
“Good art always has a social agenda,” said Director Zora Carrier. “It is about people and about what people care about.”
Kids of all ages have plenty of space to transform into artists, veterinarians, farmers, engineers, entertainers and more at the 53,000-square foot Glazer Children’s Museum. Take in a concert, Broadway traveling show or top entertainer at the The Straz Theatre, also acclaimed for performances by The Florida Orchestra.
Celebrating its 100-year mark in 2020, the Tampa Museum of Art is filled with impressive contemporary, modern and ancient art. The museum exhibits the largest Greek and Roman antiquities collection in the Southeastern United States. Ancient heroines sculpted from marble and contemporary superheroes like Wonder Woman tell their story here, through the exhibit HerStory: Stories of Ancient Heroines and Everyday Women, on display through June 2022.
“The museum perpetually relates antiquities to modern times,” said Director of Marketing and Communications Nina Womeldurf.
One short block away is the 1920s-era Tampa Theatre. Cool off and catch a silent film, folk festival, sing-along or one of 700 new and first-run film films or documentaries. The Gasparilla Film Festival and the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, plus speakers like snowboarder Sean White and premieres like “The Infiltrator” starring Brian Cranston are part of the theatre’s annual itinerary. Called one of the “10 Most Beautiful Cinemas in the World,” this lauded movie palace and molded plaster masterpiece is a Tampa treasure.
The Museum of Science and Industry plans to move to the riverfront soon, and more unique history, art and educational museums excite the entirety of Tampa. The National Historic Landmark, the Henry B. Plant Museum is across the river, and the American Victory & Ship Mariner’s Museum, Epicurean Theatre, Tampa Firefighters Museum, J.C. Newman Cigar Company, Dinosaur Museum, USF Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa Police Museum, Tampa Baseball Museum and Ybor City Baseball Museum add to the city’s complexion.
Do not miss some of Greater Tampa Bay’s most creative annual art festivals
St. Petersburg Fine Art Festival
The St. Petersburg Fine Art Festival gives more than 100 artists from across the United States a shot at displaying their work in an outdoor gallery that buzzes with excited patrons, collectors and art aficionados.
Where: South Straub Park, St. Petersburg
When: Feb. 19-20, 2022
Gasparilla Festival of the Arts
A true live event experience, the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts boasts a hugely diverse portfolio of art across many media — all set to live music and sprinkled with interactive experiences.
Where: Julian B. Lane, Riverfront Park, Tampa
When: March 5-6, 2022
Coquina Beach Arts & Crafts Festival
Powerful creativity is on display at the Coquina Beach Arts & Crafts Festival, a beach-based art fair that is sure to satisfy the appetite of hungry art lovers.
Where: Gulf Drive South, Bradenton Beach
When: March 5-6, 2022
Hyde Park Village Art Fair
Stroll the beautiful, historic streets along Hyde Park’s Snow Avenue and peruse more than 100 exhibitors. The sights just begin with life-sized sculptures, jewelry, ceramics, photography and paintings.
When: March 26-27, 2022
Where: Snow Avenue, Tampa
SHINE Mural Festival
SHINE Mural Festival is a special event that converts the facades of St. Petersburg architecture into an open-air exhibit — with block after block of gorgeous, high-class street art worthy of Banksy.
Where: Throughout St. Petersburg
When: Oct. 14-23, 2022
By Rose Derkay