Down with ol’ PP — Pinellas Arts Village becomes a routine stop for culture hounds
Ah, Pinellas Park. Once maligned but full of potential, its once severed cultural roots are blossoming again.
For arty youth who grew up nearby during the 1970s-’90s, the city served only as a pass-through to St. Pete — with a few exceptions. One, a defunct venue called the Lonesome Coyote — where punk rockers and younger wannabes (myself included) witnessed the spectacle of bands like Jehovah’s Sicknesses and Suicidal Tendencies screaming and holding court over some scary mosh pits.
Another, the Beaux Arts Coffeehouse, at 60th Street North, an artsy-bohemian roost for decades until it burned down in the ’80s. When Jim Morrison attended St. Petersburg Junior College, he read his poetry at open mics there. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac popped in, and legend has it that Kerouac was thrown out “for possibly exposing himself,” according to a statement by local artist Boo Ehrsam to the Pinellas Park Beacon.
A half-century-plus later, the revamped mid-century-built galleries of the Pinellas Arts Village emanate with Beaux Arts’ creative mojo, taking shape spitting distance from where it once gathered drunk poets.
The retail/entertainment/arts collective hosts the monthly Fourth Saturday Art Walk, inviting the public to browse works in all media while listening to some live music or downing a beer or two in a quaint biergarten. The Village’s exhibits and entertainments offer something for all ages, from families to older couples to young hipsters alike.
Located along the north side of Park Boulevard from the 5600 to the 5800 Block, the Village includes the COVE, Pompei Studios, Swartz Art Gallery, the Studios at 5663 and Painting with a Twist of Pinellas Park.
Not just another small-town folksy endeavor, the Village features creative and edgy installations with unconventional spins on mini theme park attractions. It’s a newish tradition that started at the COVE, Derek Donnelly’s stylish space constructed from recycled shipping containers.
Next door, you can get lost for an hour or more in Pompei Studios, a sprawling two-story house of rustic wonders. Pompei’s clever sculptures of repurposed antiquities, metal and bric-a-brac may be the backdrop of more immersive art experiences to come. Stay tuned.
COVE owner Donnelly and his Public Art Project posse have been the most visible beacons on the block, luring arts enthusiasts with their majestic murals. Imagery by Donnelly, Sebastian Coolidge, James Oleson and Zulu Painter adorn exterior walls, joined more recently by the works of some truly impressive emerging artists like Reid Jenkins, Scott Hillis and Justin Wagher.
According to a report in 83 Degrees Media, the city has played a major role in making the Arts Village a welcoming spot — most notably through the efforts of Debra Rose, Library and Cultural Affairs Administrator for the City of Pinellas Park. On her watch, Pinellas Park officials have rezoned the nearby United Cottages, a quaint, run-down neighborhood behind the galleries, where you can now find a bakery and the Wordier Than Thou bookstore.
The city has incentivized lower-priced leases and rezoned the area as a mixed-use live-work district. Unsafe buildings have been demolished; others have received face-lifts with curb appeal-adding street lamps, pavers and a fenced-in community garden known as the “gARTen” were added.
Several accomplished creatives occupy the Studios at 5663, including artist/instructor John Gascot, who paints abstract, Latin-influenced, pop culture-referencing works that brim with sass, humor and inspiration. These days Gascot is working with Mosaic, an arts program focused toward multicultural youth. He and co-lead art instructor No Elle have coached students in creating portraits to be mixed with others to create a larger (you guessed it) mosaic.
Bottles Pub can be thanked for its cute outdoor beer garden in the middle of it all. The local mainstay serves craft beers and presents artist-sponsored events.
Swartz Art Gallery, on the easternmost end of the collective, could be viewed as a complementary bookend to Pompei, displaying sleek, contemporary pieces by owner/artist Clayton Swartz. His piece “Skyward” is part of the Florida Gulf Coast University public art collection, and his large-scale works with their brushed metal and eye-popping color, can be seen in public spaces throughout the state.
The Pinellas Park Historical Society, a block to the west of the galleries at the site of the city’s old train depot occupies a newer city annex known as the Park Station building with the Pinellas Park Art Society. A real caboose can be found outside, and historic artifacts inside.
During the last Pinellas Park Art Walk the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society Band performed dulcet tones inside the Park Station adjacent to the Art Society’s space — we hope they will return with their shimmery jingle jangle.
Here’s some of the Arts Village scenes caught by photographer Daniel Veintimilla during our last visit: