Explore Tampa Bay

Things to Do in Tampa and St. Petersburg: A Guide to the Arts

A travel guide to must-visit art museums and top galleries in the Tampa-St. Petersburg region

Art Museums in St. Petersburg

When fine art is mentioned in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, there’s no escaping the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg. As one of the world’s most comprehensive collection of the Spanish surrealist artist’s work, The Dalí alone is enough to consider Tampa Bay a destination for art. But the Bay area is ripe with old master works and up-and-coming contemporary art that also deserve the aesthetic seeker’s attention.

One of the latest jewels to grace the Tampa Bay arts scene is the Chihuly Collection at The Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg. Chihuly, the undisputed king of art glass, is lauded for his hand-blown sculptures with an elegant, flowing grace conceived in a rainbow of juicy colors that radiate pure joy. The Morean Arts Center is a permanent showcase of Chihuly’s most famous and elaborate works, including the 20-foot “Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier,” which was created specifically for the Arts Center. The 10,000-square-foot space with five galleries, designed by architect Albert Alfonso, was built specifically to showcase the complexity and beauty of Chihuly’s large-scale glass installations. The Morean is also home to a living glass studio where resident glass artists give demonstrations and even offer one-on-one glass blowing tutorials open to the public. Beyond glass, The Center for Clay at the Morean is one of the largest potteries in the SouthEast. Professionals and students alike use the vast space to create and sell their wares in-house.

When the whimsy of glass and melting clocks encroaches on too much headspace, The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Pete’s grounds the exuberance with its collection of studied and cerebral classical art spanning many centuries and disciplines. The museum’s 14,000 piece permanent collection includes European, Native American, pre-Columbian, Asian and African works. Highlights are stellar French Impressionist paintings and galleries dedicated to decorative arts. The museum’s photography collection is one of Florida’s most respected and includes over 10,000 images. Traveling exhibitions take advantage of the roomy gallery space for presenting shows such as art from up-and-coming young contemporary Chinese artists and mid-century American photography.

Emerging Art Galleries and Studios in St. Petersburg

The big museums on the waterfront capture much of the visitor’s attention, but big art is brewing on a local level.

The recent bust in real estate turned out to be a boon for St. Pete artists, says John Collins, director of the St. Petersburg Art Alliance. The once run-down, 600 block of Central Avenue was slated for big development, but when the market tanked, artists took notice of the area and asked if they could spruce it up with works of art. The city basically handed the block over to the arts, says Collins, and it quickly became the spine of St. Pete’s gallery scene.  As the galleries thrived, other businesses moved in such as restaurants and shopping that solidified the area as a bona fide district for the arts. Collins couldn’t be more pleased with the arts bloom. With help from his organization, local artists and gallery owners are bonding together to bring even more awareness to the city’s creative class. Beyond Central avenue are other pockets of artistic activity that Collins would like to see get their share of attention such as the Warehouse Arts District. “There are some absolutely amazing established and emerging artists there.”  He points to the Duncan McClellan gallery in the Warehouse district as a hometown hot spot. The space, a former food packing plant, is home to a talented clutch of glass artists who treat the gallery as a creative community. For the public, it’s home to workshops and classes in glass blowing, taught by master artists in the medium.

St. Pete’s art scene has become more accessible than ever. For $.50 ticket, visitors can catch a trolley that delivers them to the hottest art spots in St. Pete, from the main museum district on the Waterfront, to Central Avenue and beyond. Collins, who is a native of Boston, says St. Pete may not have the sheer mass of art bigger cities naturally have, but the tight knit artist community has something (besides talent) that other art destinations often lack: openness and genuine enthusiasm. “It’s not like walking into a big loft in SoHo, where the feeling is detached or aloof. Here, there is such a warm open vibe—it’s so accessible.”

The St. Petersburg Art Alliance partners with locally renowned galleries every second Saturday of the month for the St. Petersburg Art Walk. Galleries stay open late and offer a festive atmosphere for exploring art. Open to the public, a free trolley runs from 5 to 9 pm. Notable participating galleries include Duncan McClellan, Syd Entel Gallery and Five Deuce’s Galleria.

Arts in the Heart of Tampa

In the past, downtown Tampa’s art offerings have taken a backseat to St. Petersburg, its creative neighbor to the south, but the city won a decade-long struggle over funding, architectural design and location to bring the $32-million Tampa Museum of Art to life. The gleaming structure on a picturesque bank of the Hillsborough River, designed by architect Stanley Saitowitz sets it apart from everything else nearby. Its shimmering aluminum exterior peppered with 900,000 small holes sparkle with sunlight during the day and at night, LED lights underneath its surface create a kaleidoscopic effect. Inside, the translucent ceiling and glossy concrete floors connected by a central staircase set the mood for viewing art with a clear mind. Understandably, the museum’s director, Eric Smith, is proud of what the museum has become. “The Tampa Museum of Art is the region's leader in showcasing the world's best modern and contemporary art,” he says. “We host eight to 10 special exhibitions a year and present selections from our ancient and modern holdings on a rotating basis.”

The museum’s permanent collections are rich with Greek and Roman antiquities, 20th century American paintings and photographs that include images from Cindy Sherman and Chuck Close. Seven spacious interior galleries and an outdoor sculpture garden offer visitors a variety of spaces to experience iconic artists from Matisse to Rauschenberg.

Beyond the Bay

The Dunedin Fine Art Center may not have as much square footage when compared to other museums in Tampa Bay, but its passion is showcasing the talents of local artists and those aspiring to make art. It happens to be in the charming town of Dunedin, which makes it worth a day trip. Shows often riff off a theme and call artists to create in that vein. Recent shows invited botanical drawings and another asked artists’ to create physical interpretations from lines of poetry. Fun events and a diversity of education programs for all ages are also on the Art Center’s agenda. Adults and children can sign up for art classes in a variety subjects such as clay, drawing, glass, jewelry, painting and photography.

Tarpon Springs is a popular destination for visitors looking to sample authentic Greek cuisine and culture due to its historic sponging culture, but the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art at St. Petersburg College is another reason to make this charming fishing center on the Bay a destination. Its 6,000-piece collection includes works by Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso.

The excitement of Bay’s strong dedication in making itself a true art destination is infectious for both residents and visitors.

 

Get there:

Tampa Museum of Art, 120 W. Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa, 813.274.8130

Morean Arts Center, 719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727.822.7872

Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, 727.896.2667

Dunedin Fine Arts Center, 1143 Michigan Blvd., Dunedin, 727.298.DFAC

Leepa Ratner Museum, 600 Klosterman Rd, Tarpon Springs, 727.712.5762