Take a peek behind the scenes with SPF16 artists

St. Petersburg’s reputation as a city of the arts is about to kick it up a notch with a month-long festival in September celebrating nearly every artistic niche in town, from visual art and urban murals, to dance, music, theater, fashion, glass and even robot-related art.

Co-produced by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance and the Suncoasters of St. Petersburg, the St. Petersburg Festival, is now in its second year.  It’s expected to be bigger and better than last year, with some 57 events planned at more than 102 venues.

The SHINE Mural Festival jumpstarts everything and takes place September 1-10.  On September 24, a free museum day and eight-mile long Central Avenue Solstice Street Fair brings the month-long arts celebration to a close.

In between, there are some unexpected opportunities to appreciate art, such as the Florida Chamber Orchestra Concerts on September 22 at Green Bench Brewing Company and 3 Daughters Brewing -- an out-of-the-box pairing of local craft brews and classical music.  

There will also be 16 pop-up performances at 16 local restaurants by 16 artists the weekend of September 15-17. 

 Here’s a close-up look at a few of the many artists who will be performing at this year's festival.

Dancing in the street

The historic downtown open-air St. Petersburg post office and “Mural Alley” behind Central Avenue are definitely not settings where you’d expect to see a dance performance.

But that’s exactly why they appeal to St. Petersburg Dance Alliance co-founders Kellie Harmon, Andee Scott and Helen Hansen French. 

The contemporary modern dancers will be performing at six unique locales as part of a “moving dance tour” that takes place on September 17.  

“We’re looking for different ways to engage the audience; it’s not about coming out, sitting and watching a performance in the traditional way,” says Andee Scott, an assistant professor of dance ballet, modern & choreography at the University of South Florida School of Theater & Dance. (Click here to see a sample of her work.)

Starting at the Shuffleboard Court, the dance will then move to other well-known downtown sites: the lawn of the Mirror Lake Library, the open-air Post Office, Cycle Brewing and Face the Jury, the public art sculpture of red chairs on the lawn of the St. Petersburg Judicial Center. The dance tour concludes at “Mural Alley” between 6th Street North and 7th Street North.

Kellie Harmon is choreographing the performance for “Mural Alley” behind Central Avenue between Sixth Street North and Seventh Street North.  A graduate of the USF School of Theater & Dance, Harmon moved back to Tampa Bay last year after spending a few years dancing professionally in New York City. She has also launched her own contemporary modern dance company, Rogue Dance.  

“I like to think of Rogue Dance as cutting edge so the urban setting with murals as the back-drop works great for us,” says Harmon. “We’re about sneakers, not toe shoes. We like to push the boundaries by taking audiences where other dance companies might not go. (Click here to see a sample of her work.)

Pop-Up musical performances

Known for her powerful vocals, Becca McCoy will be among the 16 singers, musicians and performance artists who will be presenting surprise “Pop-Up Performances” -- a new inaugural feature of the St. Petersburg Festival called "Fusion Arts.''

A professional actor, singer and recording artist, McCoy says that being one of the festival’s pop-up performers, especially this first year, is an exciting opportunity.  

“I love any opportunity when I can sing and there is no amplification, I just get to use my instrument (her voice) to tell a story or entertain,” says McCoy. 

A St. Petersburg native and Eckerd College graduate, McCoy has many music and acting credits to her name, including being a member of the national touring company for Menopause the Musical. 

But her most well-known role locally might be her performance as Lady of the Lake in American Stage in the Park’s recent production of Spamalot.  

In July, she partnered with Tampa Bay jazz trio La Lucha in a tribute to legendary singer Rosemary Clooney as part of the Palladium Theater’s Side Door summer jazz series. (Listen to a video clip here).

Operatic voices

Erin Huelskamp is not only a performer in the St. Petersburg Festival, she’s also helping coordinate the pop-up performances, including arranging for auditions and reaching out to restaurants and other venues.

A former professor at Boston College, Huelskamp moved to St. Petersburg last October. She says she was concerned at first that she might not find the arts and culture that she had grown accustomed to in Boston. But that definitely hasn’t proven to be the case. Instead, she says, she’s found “lots of great art taking place in St. Petersburg and a very supportive community. “

Volunteering with the St. Petersburg Festival has been a great way to get involved, she says.

A composer, stage director and theatrical producer, Huelskamp is also founder of St. Petersburg’s newest opera company, Sunshine City Opera. Her focus is new, unusual and nontraditional opera from living composers, a niche that she says no one in the region had been filling.  

“Nontraditional is my specialty and it’s perfect because although there are several local opera companies, no one is doing the kind of work I love,” says Huelskamp.

On September 16, she’ll be presenting a few scenes from her own opera, a premiere of “The Ten-Block Walk,” as well as selection of other operas at [email protected] (Click here to see the trailer for “The Ten-Block Walk.”

In addition, she’ll be playing the flute as one of the Pop-Up Performers. Follow this link to hear the arrangement she created for the song, "I Wish I Were Back In St. Louis" that she’ll be performing with singer Nicole Evans.

Mural art

Originally from Argentina, St. Petersburg is artist Cecilia Lueza’s adopted hometown. 

On Thursday, Sept. 1, you’ll find her in the middle of the intersection at Central Avenue and Fifth Street North. She won’t be directing traffic. That section of the street will be closed so she and her team can create a colorful urban mural that will be literally on the street.

One of 16 artists from around the world selected to be part of this year’s SHINE Mural Festival, Lueza is no stranger to painting on the pavement.  

She’s a long-time artist who has worked in many mediums, including painting, sculpture, multimedia, mural art and large public art installations.  

Two years ago, she was commissioned to design and paint a major intersection in Fort Lauderdale. (Click here to see photos of the work.)

“With art on the street you have to think differently than you would with a mural on the wall,” says Lueza. “You have to make an impact and really have it stand out.”

The inspiration for her new street mural in downtown St. Petersburg? Traditional quilting patterns, combined with the bright color pallet found in temporary abstract art, she says.

Lueza expects her mural to take about 15 gallons of paint and about four or five hours to complete. And while she and her team are at work, crowds will be gathering for the official SHINE opening night block party.  

Additional art entertainment planned for the evening includes a Carmada art car exhibition and a pop-up art display at Florida CraftArt www.floridacraftart.org/ featuring 15 Red Bull coolers transformed into works art by local artists.

Carlos Culbertson, aka Zulu Painter, was also asked to be part of this year’s SHINE Mural Festival. 

His mural will be located in the 2900 block of Central Avenue. The design is still in the planning stages, he says, but it won’t be edgy or make a statement.  

“I like to create art that enlightens and encourages people, and makes them feel good,” says Culbertson, who is known for using an aerosol spray can to do his work.

This year he completed two murals in the Deuces Live Midtown area of St. Petersburg. A tribute to the renowned singer Ella Fitzgerald is located on Lorene’s Fish and Crab House.  

Down the street, another mural represents the historic “birth” of the city’s African American community, says Culbertson. The mural depicts the era in the late 1800s when Peter Demens hired three African American men to help him complete the Orange Belt Railway. “When the railroad was completed, those men stayed and began a new life here in St. Petersburg, settling in what we now call Midtown,” says Culbertson.

The robots are coming

Culbertson is also among the many St. Pete artists who are crazy about robots. He’s helping coordinate the fifth annual ARTofficial Intelligence: The St. Pete Robot Exchange.  

The event will take place at [email protected] on the second weekend of the St. Petersburg Festival.

“We’ve coined the phrase Robotica to refer to anything of or pertaining to robots or art with a mechanical feel to it,” says Culbertson. “It could be sculpture, photography painting or real working robots.

“We’re not a club, just a group of people who enjoy seeing where we can go with art -- it’s all about having fun,” he says. “Last year even the fans came dressed up in robot outfits.”

For more information about the St. Petersburg Festival, go to the festival website

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.
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