Festivals could paint St. Pete as international destination

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St. Petersburg is at the front end of more than a month of arts-related events. 

It started last week with the St. Petersburg Mural Festival, which runs through September 12.  That dovetails with "SPF 15," a conglomeration of more than 50 different independent events that runs from September 10 through September 27.  Then the Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival takes center stage from October 2 through October 10.

The film festival started in Tampa in 1989, and organizers say it simply outgrew that venue.  The mural festival is a "first-ever" event that has attracted several renowned muralists from LA, New York, Miami and Italy.  SPF 15 -- St. Petersburg Festival 2015 -- is also part "first-ever" and part recreation of an older-era Festival of States. 

All are intended to showcase the artists' haven St. Petersburg has become. 

"Our biggest issue now is so many artists are moving here, it's getting to be great, everybody's putting arts in their businesses, but we need people to come buy the art," Arts Alliance organizer John Collins told FOX 13 News. 

SPF 15 gathers dozens of existing activities under a single, marketable umbrella. 

"Most of them were already occurring," the Chamber of Commerce's Christ Steinocher explained. "But to package them in a way that everybody sees the intensity of having over 50 events in one place in a two-and-a-half-week period, that really puts down a stake that says St. Petersburg is an arts destination."

The target audience is global.  The first sprouts of success may be the people who stop by the murals now being painted, visit with the artists, and take pictures. 

"When you think about where those pictures are going out to, it's a very interesting community building," Collins mused. "Some of these muralists have 15,000 [followers]. One of them has a couple of hundred thousand followers around the world." 

SPF 15 will get a more formal push. 

"You have major organizations like the Suncoasters and the Arts Alliance and the Chamber and the city all putting it on their social networks, all putting it on their emails, their print ads," Steinocher said. 

The goal is to create an annual event of magnitude that attracts visitors who appreciate a wide variety of art forms.  By Collins' measure, St. Petersburg's arts industry already has a $250-million direct and indirect economic impact.