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ARTpool Gallery: Celebrating Art, Music, Fashion In St. Pete

Picture a gallery for local talent like the artist who paints old airplane parts with colorful, stylized figures of women. A vintage shop for "recycled, repurposed'' clothing and other items from the '50s, '60s and '70s. And a boutique for jewelry made from Scrabble pieces, spent bullet casings, feathers, old skeleton keys, cameos, geodes and other unique odds and ends.

"I love giving vintage new life and putting my own creative spin on things,'' says Marina Williams, an artist and photographer as well as founder of ARTpool Gallery, a new 5,000-square-foot shop on Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg.

In addition to her own work, Williams represents more than 30 local painters, jewelers, clothing designers, mixed media artists, and more. It's a co-op arrangement, she says, with 100 percent of the profits going to the artist. 

But ARTpool Gallery is also gaining quite a reputation as a destination for special events that celebrate art, music and fashion. 

For Valentine's Day, Williams hosted a retro pin-up photo shoot with participants donning vintage outfits from the shop -- everything from lingerie, evening wear and a collection of aprons circa 1950 to Williams' own hand-made, hand-sewn bustiers with fringe. "Every appointment was filled,'' says Williams. "It was wildly successful.''

Then there's Muse Art & Body-Art Party, promoted as a living and breathing canvas exhibition with models painted hand to toe, most au naturel. More than 20 body artists and an equal number of models participated in this year’s event, which also featured video art, a flash mob and a burlesque performance to kick things up a notch.

"We start in the morning with models having their hair done at Aveda, spend the rest of the day painting the body to get ready for a fashion photo shoot and then open the doors for the party that night,'' says Williams.

Moving To Tampa Bay

The 27-year-old St. Petersburg native says she has had a love for art, vintage items and "the unique, unusual and one-of-a-kind'' for as long as she can remember. After graduating from Sarasota's New College and completing art internships in Spain and New York City, Williams went to the University of Eastern London to study photography and film. Then she came back home. 

It wasn't easy at first. At the time, downtown St. Petersburg was still in transition. There were no independent, avant-garde galleries, few vintage stores, no collection of artsy boutiques. When Williams brought her photographs around to the local galleries, she was told her art was "too out there.'' There wasn’t a market for it.  

But Williams wasn't easily defeated. She didn’t want to move to NYC or Chicago. She wanted to stay in St. Petersburg. So with the boundless energy and enthusiasm of a visionary, she decided to create her own place. She was 23 at the time. It was 2008.

Over time, word spread, her reputation grew and she needed more space.  Last year, she bought a big empty building across the street from St. Petersburg's iconic Haslam's Bookstore. The building once housed J.B. Automotive, an auto repair shop for high-end sports cars. Last December, after a complete overhaul and revamping of the space, she moved in.

Still in the planning stage is the transformation of the enormous backyard into a garden patio, fashion show runway and outdoor party venue with wall space for video art projections and independent films.

"Where else could you find something like this, right off Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg,'' says Williams. "Everything is working out really well.''

Janan Talafer is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, FL, who shares a home office with her dog Bear and two cats Milo and Nigel. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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