Clearwater art exploration becomes a virtual pleasure

Google Maps for art? Not quite, but Clearwater officials have devised a new web navigation tool designed to provide a culturally enriching exploration of outdoor art in and around the city’s downtown district. 

Produced by the Clearwater Arts Alliance in partnership with the Clearwater Redevelopment Agency, the city’s website now includes the interactive map of art sites.

“Funded by the city of Clearwater Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) in partnership between the CRA and the Clearwater Arts Alliance, it was created to give our residents and visitors an option to enjoy some of downtown’s unique and beautiful artworks remotely via a digital map, or at their own pace while on a safe and socially distant outing,” explains Christopher Hubbard, Clearwater’s Cultural Affairs Coordinator. 

With more than two dozen murals, sculptures, signal box art, and creative placemaking projects, families can easily spend an afternoon discovering artwork. The map has photos and locations of each art site, as well as information on the artist and the piece itself. 

“Many of the artworks have additional resources -- like ‘making-of’ videos, or ways to contribute to the city’s placemaking program in their own neighborhood,” Hubbard says. “More interactive content will launch throughout the year -- more interviews with artists, more sites, and more behind-the-scenes content such as how signal box murals get made.”  

In addition, users of the map will discover how the works tell stories about local history, nature, and empowerment, among other inspirational topics. You’ll find info on the CRA’s Paint the Town program, dining vouchers, and other things to do downtown. The map itself features color-coded markers, which both identify and describe the art. 

Those using the map can easily tour the district comprising historic buildings and landscaped medians -- some home to the annually revolving Sculpture360 project. Donald Gialanella’s “Gaia,” is among those scheduled to leave soon. The stunning metallic bust of Greek mythology’s earth mother will only be around until September or thereabouts when new pieces replace it and other works in the series.

Click on the purple pin farthest west by the Clearwater Harbor and you’ll learn about another metallic sculpture, Cliff Garten’s “Middens.” The seashell-inspired piece pays tribute to the seashell mounds built by the Tocobaga tribe who lived along the gulf coast several centuries ago. 

Click on the yellow pin a few blocks northeast, off Drew Street, you’ll find out what inspired the elaborate mural painted by husband-and-wife team Michelle Sawyer and Tony Krol. The work “One Hundred Years Before J. Cole” depicts the Orange Belt Railway, a narrow-gauge railway founded in 1885 for the citrus industry, and, to its right, a bicycle design from the same year. Inspired by J. Cole’s song “1985,” Sawyer and Krol not only explore how things evolve and change and are rooted in history, but, most importantly, the path of the onetime railway that is now the Pinellas Trail, where bicycles tread daily.

Clearwater’s virtual map concept evolved from the Arts Alliance’s printed guide to aid volunteer docents and self-guided tours. The project culminated earlier this year when they led their first walking tour, but COVID-19 hit and stalled plans of further putting the printed version to use. 

“We thought we would like to start hosting walks on somewhat of a regular basis,” says Arts Alliance representative Beth Daniels. “So we developed a map and researched where all the pieces are, came up with a more detailed script including details about the artists and when they created their works, media used, and other details.”

Tours with smaller socially distanced groups are currently under consideration. Visit the Clearwater Arts Alliance or the organization’s social media sites for updates.

“We could also invite some of the art teachers from the [Pinellas] County,” Daniels added. “And if they're interested in bringing a small group of students, students could see up close and personal a completed major work of art.”
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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.