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Moving To St. Petersburg: A Haven For Artists







Small galleries, art lofts, quirky boutiques and working artist studios are changing the landscape of downtown St. Petersburg.

Take a stroll down Central Avenue and you'll find artist Bill Correira of Gallery Woo, designer and builders Derek Grasso and Scott Fisher of T2thS and little indie boutiques like Eve-N-Odd Gallery.
 
"The whole area is going crazy with new restaurants, vintage clothing shops, funky shops and galleries,'' says Diane Shelley, executive director of the Florida Craftsmen Gallery, an arts center that anchors one side of the newly designated Central Arts District with the Morean Arts Center on the other. "We're creating a destination here just like Beach Drive is a destination,'' says Shelly.
 
Where Art Is Made

Jump a block or so south of the Central Arts District and you'll find a less gentrified arts district emerging from a once gritty industrial sector of the city. Amid auto body shops and small manufacturing facilities, the Warehouse Arts District is taking shape and turning into the place for creative entrepreneurs who are embracing the idea of live-work-play onsite.
 
Sculptor, metalsmith and welder Salvador St. Germain, along with Christian Zvonik, a glass and metal artist, and his wife, Kendra Zavonik, a painter, pooled their resources to transform a run-down, bug-infested former dog shelter into their "own little utopia.'' Utopia-562 or U-562 for short is enormous, with a large studio, private residence and combination art gallery and entertainment space.
 
In the venue's studio, St. Germain is at work on a 3/18-inch scale replica of a Mason 4-4-0 steam engine for the CA Cafe at Morean Arts Center for Clay, located not far away in the historic Seaboard Train Station.
 
"Historically this area was considered a scary part of town,'' says St. Germain. "But artists have been coming in and cleaning things up. We're the ones who are willing to take the risk and run with it.''

Christian agrees. "We're creating a real working arts community here with a grass roots feel to it.''

Finding Your Peeps Next Door

Not everyone lives and works on the property. Some artists just like the idea of having room to spread out. After Jonathan Haywood of Epic Artisan Concrete and his wife Ashley moved back to Florida from Costa Rica in 2011, Jonathan rented space to grow his business designing and making high-end artistic concrete countertops, sinks, furniture, fireplace surrounds, outdoor kitchens and sculpture. 
 
Last month, he was happy to move into new digs in the Warehouse Arts District -- a 3,000-square-foot show room and workspace that's about 15 times the size of what he had previously.  
 
U-562 is neighbor. So is Charlie Parker Pottery, Zen Glass Studio, Duncan McClellan Glass, Eric Higgs Sculpture Studio, Catherine Woods' c glass studio and Mark Aeling of MGA Sculpture Studio.
 
Aeling, who is president of the Warehouse Arts District, a new nonprofit alliance of member artists, moved into the area years ago, long before it was trendy. But now, the district is gaining recognition and there's a certain density developing, he says.
 
What changed? Aeling points to a number of factors. Because the Warehouse Arts District is situated in an industrial area, tax benefits for businesses locating there are also available for the artists.  In addition, zoning regulations allow artists to live and work onsite and the city has adopted a favorable attitude and made it easy for artists to set up shop, says Aeling. 
 
Another major benefit is cost. It's affordable, says Aeling. "This is where you can find the best, least expensive space.''

Thanks To Duncan McClellan
 
Well-known glass artist Duncan McClellan moved into the district in 2010, turning a former tomato packing plant into an interesting mix that includes a small private residence for himself and his girlfriend Irene, an art gallery, a half-acre of exotic tropical fruit trees, oversize decks for entertaining and space for his newest project, the DMG School Project Mobile Glass Lab.
 
Aeiling credits Duncan for putting the Warehouse Arts District on the radar screen. 
 
"Duncan got the attention of the city and has been instrumental in helping put all the nuts and bolts into place to allow this place to pull together and blossom,'' says Aeling.
 
In addition to hosting art shows, McClellan is known for his monthly charitable fundraisers, which bring an increasingly larger crowd of people into the Warehouse Arts District to experience it. 

"I can see a whole artist community evolving here,'' says McClellan. "The louder mediums are ideal for the Warehouse Arts District and the painters, potters and quieter art mediums can be nearby in Kenwood and other residential neighborhoods.''

Everywhere you look in St. Petersburg: The artists are moving in.

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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