Three artists are behind a city-led effort to bring more public art to the streets of St. Petersburg and promote mass transit. Robert Stackhouse and Carol Mickett, whose collaborative resume includes public art projects in Chattanooga, Tn. and Richmond, Va., have partnered with Thaddeus Root to develop a unifying visual theme for a system of bus shelters and way-finding markers that will run along Central Avenue from Tampa Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The trio is several weeks into a contract with the city of St. Petersburg that is expected to culminate in the installation of public artworks in 2015, on the heels of a key referendum to fund expanded transit options in Pinellas County scheduled for this fall.
The project, called Central Avenue Art In Transit, has just begun, explains Elizabeth Brincklow, St. Pete’s manager of arts and international relations. Last month, the three artists began an online campaign (at facebook.com/artintransitstpete) to solicit information from local residents about how often they visit Central Avenue and what imagery they associate with the thoroughfare. Between now and April, the team will synthesize the information they collect with their own aesthetic philosophies — Mickett and Stackhouse have a record of projects that respond to site-specific histories, materials and imagery — into a visual and conceptual plan for 8-10 bus shelters and associated signage that the city will then decide whether to design and build as separate phases in the overall project.
The budget for the entire project, including the eventual design and fabrication of any structures, is $2.3 million. Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) is chipping in $300,000 that was already slated for bus shelters, while two other sources — a federal grant of $1 million and a local match of $1 million from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax for county capital improvement projects — are footing the bulk of the bill. The federal support was a match-it-or-lose-it opportunity that St. Pete could have lost to another city, Brincklow says.
“This funding would go somewhere else if it wasn’t going to this particular project in St. Pete,” she says.
In choosing Mickett and Stackhouse (who were selected by a committee after a public request for qualifications), the city seems to have gotten the best of both worlds: truly local artists — the couple, who are married, live in a converted warehouse on the waterfront south of downtown St. Petersburg — who also have a national reputation. Root, a generation younger at 47, has been a close friend and collaborator with Mickett and Stackhouse since their 2008 solo exhibition at the Morean Arts Center in St. Pete. He brings to the project a different perspective on city life and a fluency in social media that the couple doesn’t have, Mickett says.
One thing the three do share is a healthy respect for the challenge of designing a visual motif that will please the diverse publics that utilize Central Avenue in the course of their daily lives.
“It’s an incredible challenge to really do this in a way that is inclusive yet distinctive, and hopefully is going to be celebrated — it’s both really exciting and scary to us,” Stackhouse says.
The artists and Brincklow, the city’s arts manager, all agree that growth of both the arts and transit, which go hand in hand in the project, are critical to St. Pete becoming the city its residents want it to be.
“It’s time,” Brincklow says. “Whether we’re talking about large transit or local transit — it’s time.”
Creative Pinellas has named Mitzi Gordon as its new director. The nonprofit arts agency was created in 2011 as a comparatively low-budget successor to Pinellas County Cultural Affairs, the county’s traditional grant-making arts council, which was defunded in 2010.
Creative Pinellas runs on newer, more experimental models of philanthropy and arts promotion, such as its FEAST fundraising dinners to benefit individual artists and a weekly e-newsletter, Articulate, which toes the line between journalism and marketing for Pinellas’ lively arts communities.
Gordon, who has overseen Articulate since its inception as Creative Pinellas’ media manager, was promoted following the departure of T. Hampton Dohrman, who stepped down as director of the agency last December. Under her watch, Gordon says, Creative Pinellas will continue its current programs — the next FEAST takes place at the Beach Art Center in Indian Rocks Beach on March 27 — while developing a new program to facilitate the creation of more public murals in St. Petersburg by connecting artists, host sites and prospective sponsors and funders.
As an individual, Gordon is known for her work with art and media organizations across Tampa Bay, at the Dalí Museum, the Tampa Museum of Art and Media General over the past decade. This weekend, her project CARMADA: Art’s Mobile Fleet,
a display of six cars decorated by Florida artists (her own little blue hatchback is painted with deadpan texts by Hunter Payne), will occupy Kiley Garden as part of the 44th annual Raymond James Festival of the Arts in downtown Tampa. Now that Pinellas County will be the focus of her professional endeavors, Gordon plans to move from Tampa to St. Pete, though she sees remaining connected on both sides of the bay, as well as within Pinellas, as an asset to the organization and, ultimately, the arts.
“I want to be a facilitator. I want to connect organizations with people and resources with an eye toward growth opportunities for everybody,” she says.