St Petersburg – A Cultural Mecca on the Rise

It’s Saturday morning and downtown St. Petersburg is already bustling with activity at the popular Saturday Morning Market at Al Lang Field.  Soon, visitors will be dropping in at the Dali, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the galleries along Central Avenue.  By the time noon rolls around, restaurants along Beach Drive will be filling with lunch patrons and an art  festival will take over Vinoy Park.  Later, as dusk settles, the lights will go on at American Stage Theatre and the Palladium, and live music will fill dance floors at downtown clubs.

One thing is undeniable about St. Petersburg – it is a cultural mecca on the rise.  A downtown renaissance in recent years has brought new life and vitality to the quiet burg where retirees once flocked to spend their final years.  Inspired by an arts scene that is growing by leaps and bounds, the urban culture is one of vibrancy and energy verging on cosmopolitan.

Indeed, culture and arts shine in St. Petersburg with the world-class Dali Museum, the Chihuly Collection and  Museum of Fine Arts leading the way. The ever-surprising Dali kicks off  with a new exhibit of selected works by Pop Art legend Andy Warhol.

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To catch the St. Pete vibe, stroll along Central Avenue with its eclectic mix of art galleries and dining establishments.  Be sure to stop in at the Morean Art Center and its Chihuly Hot Shop where you can watch glass art being made by talented artisans.  Further west, near Tropicana Field, is the Grand Central  District where you’ll find lots of small galleries and workshops  featuring local arts and crafts.   The Craftsman House Gallery, a renovated 1918 bungalow, is a great place to visit for its fine arts and crafts. Relax on the porch with a cappuccino and watch the world go by.

For a real taste of the St. Petersburg arts scene, the Second Saturday Art Walk from 6 to 9 p.m. is well worth joining.  Stroll the galleries along Central Avenue; then hop aboard a free trolley to the Warehouse Arts District. There’s always a lively crowd and inspiring art at Duncan McClellan’s Glass warehouse gallery!

The performing arts are alive and well, too, in St. Petersburg.  The 2,031-seat Mahaffey Theater at Duke Center for the Performing Arts is the place to look for  Broadway, pop, rock, comedy, dance, classical  and the Florida Orchestra, which makes its home base there.  Top shows this spring include crooner Tony Bennett and the renowned Shen Yun Dance Company from China, both in February.

The venerable American Stage Theatre presents professional equity theater in the 182-seat Raymond James Theatre. An “After Hours” series of cabaret, concerts and comedy brings local and regional talent to the stage. The  popular American Stage in the Park outdoor theater series will present the award-winning Broadway musical “The Wiz” April 11-May 4.

The stately Palladium Theater,  circa 1925,  is a classic mid-size venue for live touring musical acts; its Side Door nightclub presents a more intimate venue for jazz , blues, folk, cabaret, and other genres.  The Palladium is also the home of the St. Petersburg Opera Company;  their next performance will be the American melodrama  “Susannah” on January 31 and February 2 and 4.

By Marcia Biggs

Photos By Dorian Photography

Article written for Destination Tampa Bay Magazine

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