St. Petersburg’s thriving arts and culture scene extends far beyond the state of Florida.
Represented by outstanding museums—some of them world-famous—scores of independent galleries, a successful, close-knit community of working artists and crafts-people, and a stellar performing arts community, St. Petersburg’s cultural scene is one of the best in the southeastern United States. The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance has partnered with the city to preserve its arts and cultural community, ensure a strong arts-related economic presence, and foster growth in all seven arts districts.
St. Petersburg’s arts and culture roots are firmly anchored by a collection of museums and cultural attractions unique to the city, including the Salvador Dali Museum, the Chihuly Collection presented by Morean Arts Center, the Museum of Fine Arts, the St. Petersburg Museum of History, The Florida Holocaust Museum, Morean Arts Center, Florida CraftArt, Sunken Gardens, Great Explorations, the African American Heritage Trail, and more. St. Petersburg offers visitors and residents an exclusive perspective on art and culture.
New additions to the St. Petersburg art and culture landscape, the Museum of American Arts and Crafts Movement, opening in 2019, and the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art and the Imagine Museum, which opened in April 2018, are slated to occupy prime locations in and near downtown St. Petersburg and further broaden the city’s cultural experience.
More than 100 independent working artists and their studios and galleries weave an integral pattern in St. Petersburg’s arts and cultural tapestry. The city offers seven distinct arts districts where artists may live, work and create, offering their unique talent to residents and visitors alike.
Visitors and residents will note that in St. Petersburg, the footlights burn as brightly as its vibrant visual arts. Performing arts venues are located throughout the city and include everything from historical structures to new construction: The Palladium, American Stage, Mahaffey Theater (home to the Florida Orchestra), the St. Petersburg Opera Company, St. Petersburg City Theatre, freeFall Theatre, and A Simple Theatre Company at Eckerd College.
History of the Arts in St. Petersburg
As early as 1915, art and culture have played a significant role in St. Petersburg’s development. From the creation of the first art school by the Tadd family in 1915, the Florida Winter Art School (on the grounds of the present Museum of Fine Arts) in 1916, and the opening of what is now the St. Petersburg Museum of History in 1922, St. Petersburg has been poised for a creative future.
Musically, the city’s roots are based in the Carreno Music Club, eventually reborn as The Florida Orchestra, whose home is the renowned Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts’ Mahaffey Theater. Further south, the historic Manhattan Casino played host to legendary traveling jazz artists, such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Count Basie, as well as local African American musicians. Re-opening in August 2013, the historic building is now an event center and restaurant, offering patrons a Floribbean dining experience.
Writers, authors, and architects, including William Straub, owner of the St. Petersburg Times, Beat generation novelist Jack Kerouac, and Mark Dixon Dodd, who designed 19 cottage-style homes in the Driftwood subdivision of St. Petersburg’s Big Bayou neighborhood, enjoyed the warmth of St. Petersburg’s sunshine.
From 1965 through the eighties, St. Petersburg’s arts and cultural scene continued to flourish. The city witnessed the opening of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1965; welcomed American Stage in 1977; the Salvador Dali and Great Explorations Children’s Museums in 1982 and helped establish a headquarters for the statewide Florida Craftsmen organization, now Florida CraftArt, in 1986.
During this time, St. Petersburg welcomed the Florida International Museum, observed the Florida Holocaust Museum move into its present downtown location, saw significant renovations to the Palladium Theater and watched the doors swing open on independent galleries. To assist the expanding arts community, the Looper Trolley system was formed, connecting residents and visitors with downtown hotels and museums to make St. Petersburg’s cultural scene even more accessible.
As the need for space changed and different creative processes took hold, the Morean Arts Center’s Center for Clay relocated to the Historic Train Station in the Warehouse Arts District, followed by glass artist Duncan McClellan, who, along with other artists, have breathed new life into the former industrial district by creating a concentration of successful arts businesses. The Salvador Dali Museum moved into an award-winning structure specifically designed to house the collection and closer to the waterfront. And the doors on The Chihuly Collection in downtown St. Petersburg opened, showcasing the first permanent exhibition of renowned artist Dale Chihuly in the world.
The future is bright as St. Petersburg continues its investment in arts and culture. In 2017, the Museum of American Arts & Crafts Movement, a multi-million dollar permanent tribute to the early 20th-century movement, is anticipated to open downtown in 2019. And just steps away, an extensive private collection of Western and American Indian art owned by Raymond James CEO Tom James is on display, occupying a space more than double the size of the current Salvador Dali Museum.