Creative Pinellas cultivates arts and artists in Pinellas County through mural, grant programs

St. Petersburg-based multidisciplinary artist Jason Hackenwerth’s work has been on display at museums and galleries across the globe.

But Hackenwerth always maintains close ties with local arts organization Creative Pinellas, where his new installation “DARKMATTER” debuts July 22.

He has twice received the Creative Pinellas professional artist grant to help cover the equipment and supply costs that add up so quickly for working artists. Hackenwerth used the first to purchase a high-end camera to photograph and showcase his work. The second he plans to put toward paint and canvases.

As part of the professional artist program, his work has been showcased at the Arts Annual group exhibition. Now, Hackenwerth is debuting his first solo installation. So he knows well Creative Pinellas and all the organization does to cultivate and support local art talent.

“(Creative Pinellas CEO) Barbara St. Clair works tirelessly to get money in the hands of artists who need it, who are working hard, who can show proof and evidence of the work they are making and the effort they put into their careers," Hackenwerth says. "I think what they try to do is help artists bridge that gap between having to work for a paycheck and becoming self-sufficient artists who are able to earn that paycheck through their work."

Now, Creative Pinellas is seeking local artists for two programs designed to help develop and promote local artists and cement Pinellas County's reputation as an arts destination: the emerging artist grant program and a large mural project at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. 

Airport murals

The mural project will consist of two murals covering three exterior walls at the airport’s Gate 12. It is the first such collaboration between Creative Pinellas and St-Pete-Clearwater International, where the work of Florida artists is on display inside the airport, and stands to be the most visible of the public mural projects Creative Pinellas has overseen.

“It’s a really great opportunity for the local artist being featured and for people coming through the airport to know how important the arts are to the Clearwater, St. Pete, Pinellas County area,” says Creative Pinellas Arts Project Manager Lea Umberger.

Working with Pinellas County government, Creative Pinellas has spent years transforming bare walls along the Pinellas Trail into vibrant, nature-themed murals that showcase the work of local artists. Umberger says that partnership started as a graffiti abatement initiative and blossomed into much more.

“The trail was a great opportunity to bring art and Pinellas County’s connection with the outdoors together,” she says.

Leo Gomez's mural "Better Together" on the Lealman Exchange community center.In the Lealman area, Creative Pinellas and the Leaman Community Redevelopment Agency have partnered on a civic-pride and community identity public art project that has added murals to Raymond H. Neri Park, the Lealman Exchange community center and the Red Mesa and Mother Kombucha warehouse buildings.

“They’re using it to revitalize and bring attention to the uniqueness of the different areas of Lealman, to build community awareness and show the sense of pride in the community that is already there,” Umberger says. “That was a really interesting mural project because it mixed public spaces and also worked with businesses to help draw people’s attention to the business area of Lealman, which is primarily warehouse spaces.”

Currently, Creative Pinellas and the Lealman CRA are looking for locations to expand the community mural program. Murals, Umberger says, are a great way to bring art to the places where people are in their daily lives.

“I like the idea that it is bringing art outside,” Umberger says. “I love museums, but this brings art to people who might not go to a museum. You can drive or walk through your neighborhood and see a cool piece of art and be inspired every day. You don’t get to go to a museum every day, although I wish we all could.”

The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) mural project seeks artists with at least one mural project, and preferably four to six, on their resumes. Creative Pinellas is accepting applications through August 1. For more information go to PIE Gate 12 mural project.

Emerging artist grant program

Now in its sixth year, Creative Pinellas’ emerging artist grant is designed to help developing artists take their careers to the next level. Up to 10 artists will receive a $2,000 grant, a professional artist mentor and the opportunity to have their work showcased during Creative Pinellas’ annual emerging artist exhibition.

While the grant program often draws interest from those working in the visual arts, it is also open to choreography, literature, media arts, music composition, theater/musical theater and interdisciplinary arts.

Creative Pinellas Director of Marketing and Communications Roman Black says the emerging artist grant program has a two-fold mission. It develops and gives exposure to local talent, while also developing Pinellas County as an arts community. 

Creative Pinellas Grants and Business Manager Charlene Harrison says emerging artists in the program often go on to continue their development with the support of Creative Pinellas through the professional artist grant program. The emerging artist grant program is accepting applications through September 6.

For more information go to Emerging Artist grant 23.
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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.