Grove Surf & Coffee Shop: A new gem on St. Pete Beach

By Brandi Bottger

Courtesy of Brandi Bottger

ST. PETE BEACH — As customers enter the doors of Grove Surf & Coffee Shop, an instant feeling of being at the Gulf beaches settles in with the smell of the salty air.

People are greeted by the staff and a wide variety of options for beachy merchandise to choose from. The walls are covered in pictures of Pinellas County’s finest landmarks, past and present, and there are plenty of options when it comes to beverages and food.

Grove is located on St. Pete Beach, just a 20-minute drive from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus. Using the familiar roasts of Bandit Coffee Co. in downtown St. Petersburg, they’re well known for using their staple roasts to mix in with their signature lattes.

Their menu includes traditional coffee options, from hot coffee to cold brews, kombucha, tea and many more. Grove also offers a limited seasonal menu. Not only that, but options for pastries and bakery items are available for purchase as well.

What is great about Grove is the community it brings into the shop.

“Our goal was to have a spot that people felt welcomed and felt like a second home,” said Lindsay Guttschling, one of the owners of Grove. “We have had so many regulars who have become friends and family.”

Kaylee Eorgan, a 21-year-old St. Petersburg native and a student at USFSP, is also a frequent customer at Grove.

“I like trying different items on their menu that they have to offer, making them different from any other coffee shop,” Eorgan said.

What also sets Grove apart from most coffee shops is that it has a retail side to it.

“So many customers always come in here and have no idea we have retail,” Guttschling said.

Fan favorite brands like RVCA, Rainbow Sandals, REEF and Billabong are a part of the many items available for purchase. Grove also has their own shirts available for $24.99.

If you’re interested in visiting Grove Surf & Coffee, the address is 7370 Gulf Blvd, St. Pete Beach.

Grove is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with Fridays and Saturdays closing at 6 p.m.

USF St. Petersburg students can even get a free ride to Grove and other spots on St. Pete Beach using the new SunRunner bus, which has a stop next to the parking garage on 6th Avenue South.

Why college seniors shouldn’t be worried about what’s next

By Audrey Ward

Courtesy of USF St. Petersburg

ST PETERSBURG — While there is no way to completely avoid stress, especially during college, there are strategies students can employ to better manage it and, as a result, become more resilient.

We all experience stress at some point in our lives. And preparing for graduation is one of the biggest for college seniors. It is critical to establish a balanced routine so that deadlines do not pile up. Graduation preparation in addition to finishing strong in classes can be overwhelming. Here are a few main tricks to remaining stress-free.

Using a planner or an online calendar to keep track of assignments and important dates is a great way to stay organized and on top of everything. Many students say an old-fashioned hand-written planner is the most effective for them.

At the start of each school year, most colleges provide free planners, including the University of South Florida.

“I keep track of all of my things to do including homework, tests, events, etc. in an app on my phone, a written planner and a whiteboard so that I wouldn’t forget anything. To relax I find things to do off-campus away from my studies like markets or I’d relax with YouTube, tv shows, and video games in my dorm,” Nash said.

Graduating seniors can also be overwhelmed with balancing class schedules with extracurricular activities like clubs and student organizations and working full- or part-time.

Seniors are expected to have an answer to “where do you see yourself in five years with your career” from both professors and parents, which can add to the stress of trying to finish school and find their first post-college job.

“There are so many different people and things pulling us in many directions. I would say taking it day by day slows everything down. Instead of thinking of your end goal focus on becoming better by 1% each day. Me personally I weight lift and run to destress,” said Nathan Poinsette, a senior majoring in digital communications multimedia journalism set to graduate in December.

Students may be dealing with a personal issue that is interfering with their participation in class lectures. Those who are suffering from anxiety and stress should know that they are not alone; there are resources available on campus.

“I make school my main priority over going out that way I’m not stressing last minute to get my homework done. And I journal every morning and night it’s like therapy and relaxing to me,” said Jessica Grobstick, a senior majoring in digital communications and multimedia journalism, who is graduating in May.

Professional support is also available to all students on campus.

“USF offers resources such as speaking to a counseling professional (and) attending a drop-in support group. For psychological services, download TimelyCare, make an appointment, or request a wellness presentation,” said Aubrey Hall, who oversees student life and wellness on the USF St. Petersburg campus.

To cope with stress, remind yourself that including time for yourself is healthy. Outside of student life, do what brings you joy and peace. Finding ways to laugh is a simple de-stress strategy and it provides additional health benefits.

How Tampa Bay college students can help protect monarch butterflies

How Tampa Bay college students can help protect monarch butterflies

By Mason Moore

ST. PETERSBURG—Have you ever wondered why you may be seeing fewer monarch butterflies?

Well, the monarch butterfly, also known as its scientific name Danaus Plexippus, is struggling to successfully make its annual migration to the west. But there are ways Tampa Bay locals, including college students, can help the species along with other important insects.

The International Union of Conservation for Nature reported that “monarch butterflies’ population have been declining rapidly over the last 40 years due to issues such as climate change, disease, and harmful pesticides.”

Butterflies are one of the most important and helpful pollinators alongside other insects. And just simply planting a native pollinating plant and reducing your use of chemical pesticides in the yard or garden can help save them from endangerment.

Monarchs are slowly losing their host plant called milkweed, on which they feed and lay their eggs. It is encouraged to plant only native milkweed according to where you live. If not, it places the butterflies in areas they typically wouldn’t be, and they are prone to freezing.

A monarch butterfly perches on milkweed at Willow Tree Nursery in St. Petersburg. Photo by Mason Moore

Dale McClung is the owner of the Florida Monarch Butterfly Farm in St. Petersburg. The farm has been in business supplying local butterflies since 1996, up until this year when McClung decided to shut down the farm to go into his retirement.

He said that the best thing to do is, “Create habitats. Plant milkweed for monarchs. Plant other host plants for other butterflies and moths.”

Some St. Petersburg plant shops that sell Florida native milkweed for butterflies are Dolin’s Garden Center at 801 62nd Ave N. and Terah Gardens at 200 49th St. N.

In Tampa, Citrus Park Landscape Nursery at 8334 Gunn Highway also sells native milkweed.

Planting native milkweed gives monarch butterflies food and energy, but it also gives a safe place for them to lay their eggs after they reproduce.

McClung advocated for protecting other insects that are on the decline as well, such as moths, who don’t get as much love as butterflies.

“Insects, in general, are in decline, not just butterflies. If you want to bring butterflies to your yard, simply plant the right plants. Nobody thinks of moths, but they’re important too. There are many more moth species than butterflies, but they lack the good PR butterflies receive,” McClung said.

The USF St. Petersburg Garden Club has big plans to help the monarch population this year.

“I hope that this is the year we get the RHO garden together because I heard many years ago it used to be a great and wonderful place to get free herbs and fruit, I definitely want to bring that back,” club president Lucinda Duah said.

Lucinda plans to reach out to an organization called, which sends free milkweed plants to schools and nonprofits. They hope to create a butterfly garden flourishing with milkweed along with other native plants in the RHO garden at USFS within the near future.

“I want to help put out some signs in the garden and around the school to educate people. Because when they’re not aware, they just don’t care” Lucinda said.

Guiding towards faith and liberation

Guiding towards faith and liberation

By Sierra Laico

ST. PETERSBURG—In a city known to locals for being progressive and passionate about social causes, it is no surprise that the city is home to Allendale United Methodist Church (UMC), a church that welcomes all walks of life.

A congregation like this requires a revolutionary leader—and they found one in Reverend Andy Oliver.

Oliver, 42, has been the Senior Pastor at Allendale UMC since 2016. Born in St. Petersburg and having grown up all over the state of Florida, he returned to his birthplace after his years of social justice work, including doing grassroots organizing in Chicago.

His journey to get to where he is now was not uncurving. After attending seminary school at Duke Divinity School, he served two United Methodist Churches in Fort Lauderdale and Lakeland. After that, he felt he was not serving in the way he was supposed to—so he left to become a bartender. While bartending, he met a community organizer, who told him he was going to make an organizer out of Oliver. They protested Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and he joined in the efforts of legalizing gay marriage, among many other efforts.

In 2012, he took a job in Chicago as communications director for the Reconciling Ministries Network, a network United Methodists organized for full inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. And four years later, Oliver was appointed to Allendale—a church that was experiencing nearly 50 years of decline.

He turned the church around almost immediately. Oliver told the Tampa Bay Times in 2020 that “the church had nothing to lose. We embraced the urgency. I practiced ministry without fear.”

Reverend Andy Oliver wears a stole with an LGBTQ+ rainbow flag pin and a Black Power fist on it as he poses with the Allendale UMC sign.
Courtesy of Andy Oliver

Since he became pastor of Allendale, the church has become involved in various community outreach projects and social justice movements such as immigration rights, farm workers’ rights, rights for the LGBTQ+ community, women’s rights, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a recent post by the Allendale UMC Facebook group, the church celebrated Oliver’s seven-year anniversary since being appointed as pastor of the church.

The flooding of over two dozen congratulatory comments spoke volumes about how valued Oliver is by the community.

“Great news! We started going back to church because of Andy,” Allendale UMC church-goer Ed Lally said. “Not afraid to speak up about injustices here and around the world.”

Despite the agreeable community that has been formed within Allendale, the subheading on the church’s website reads “A community of seekers, followers, and doubters.” With this, Oliver and members of the Allendale community embrace skepticism and doubt, too.

“Skepticism, questions and doubting—those things are welcome. I think those are a part of one’s faith. We want people to question and to ask questions. We have a lot of people who are part of us who are atheists,” Oliver said. “We’re all on a different point on this journey and trying to figure it out together, and we can best figure that out in community with each other.”

When skepticism and doubt are discussed regarding Christianity, criticism of the church arises when arriving at the topic of the Christian church’s decades-old, overarching intolerance of the LGBTQ+ community, abortion rights, and other progressive ideals. However, Allendale UMC places great emphasis on supporting community outreach projects and progressive values.

“This church and community [are] a blessing and what all Christian churches ought to strive for,” said Jen Lamont, a member of the church’s Facebook page.

Not only do skeptics arrive in the form of individuals, but they also present themselves as neighboring churches. While Allendale pairs with other churches in the Tampa Bay community, they have run into opposition from other congregations about certain things the church believes. Oliver says that although the church may receive pushback at first, it does not always stay that way.

“[The church Allendale partners with on a community project] might not be a church that is fully welcoming to LGBTQ+ people, for example,” Oliver said. “But because they get to know us working on housing, they start to realize that they might be wrong about the LGBTQ+ community. We start to see some growth.”

When asked if Oliver had anything he would say to someone that is interested in joining Allendale’s community, he has a simple yet fruitful answer.

“Allendale United Methodist Church is a community that is open to all people who want to be in community with other people who are trying to figure out life, and to work together in solidarity for liberation of all people,” He said.

Local freelance social media manager’s days revolve around engagement

Social media is a big part of everyone’s life. For Nicole Billing, her world revolves around it.

By Emily Zambrano

ST. PETERSBURG – Nicole Billing is thriving as a freelance social media manager and has been since May 2021.

Her days include multiple moving parts that demonstrate how much work goes into managing popular social media sites when you’re passionate about what you do.

“When you run a popular account, it’s easy to feel like you’ve made someone’s day by interacting, which just feels wholesome and nice,” Billing said.

Every freelance job requires discipline and planning, and over the years Billing has developed a productive and fun workday for herself.

“The great thing about social media management is that every day looks somewhat similar so it’s easy to fall into a routine,” Billing said.

Billing’s routine consists of making a checklist of everything that needs to be done for the day. This can include engagement, stat tracking, creating campaigns, etc. By allotting a certain amount of time for each task, Billing is able to ensure she spends her time wisely and effectively.

Nicole Billing has been a freelance journalist and social media manager for the last two years.
Courtesy of Nicole Billing

She likes to start her day slowly through engagement, which usually consists of scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, commenting on posts and replying to comments on the company’s page. After this, she checks her email for any messages from brand partners, making sure to stay in touch with them in regards to any questions or assets (promo codes, images, etc.) they may have.

Billing spends most of her day working on email blasts that are sent out to subscribers. These are email campaigns that partners pay for to promote their product, and Billing works with them to create it. She generally works on three to five of these a day.

In between all these moving pieces, she makes sure to keep her calendar and schedule up to date to keep everything balanced in her routine.

Billing makes sure to create a checklist of these tasks every day. Dividing her time in this way allows her to avoid any missed or late deadlines.

“I make sure that everything gets done in advance so that there is wiggle room to correct mistakes or push trendy content,” Billing said.

Whether it be an Instagram post, story, reel, giveaway or any other visual content you might find on her pages, Billing makes sure to schedule engaging with followers and replying to comments into her day. This helps her appreciate the successful feeling that comes with these interactions, as well as learn what content the audience likes to see.

An example of this was when Billing would run a Facebook Live every Friday; the audience loved her and her team, and she was constantly engaging the audience, according to the Facebook account @GlutenFreeandMore.

A few months ago, Billing was working full-time as a social media manager for Simply Gluten-Free. With this position, she was working a typical 9-5 and worked with colleagues to ensure everything was done right and on time.

“When I worked with her, Nicole was always willing to lend a helping hand no matter how busy she was and always came up with innovative new ideas,” Billing’s former co-worker Julia Gennocro said.

Now, working freelance, her days are fully under her own control. This kind of job comes with a lot of responsibility, but Billing is able to keep herself disciplined and focused and gets just as much work done as she would in a regular office.

She recommends using social media management checklists that can be found online for anyone starting off with this type of work.

Right now, Billing is working with mostly allergen-friendly food/wine companies, such as Planet Oat, Pastene, Cocina 54 and several more. Although she would like to explore more niches in the future, she loves watching the reactions and engagement of this audience.

“Watching how much engagement [posts get when they perform well] makes me feel successful at my job and like I was making a difference for those in the allergen-friendly community,” Billing said.

Right now, out of all the social media platforms out there, Billing’s favorites are Instagram and TikTok.

“I think that humans are visual creatures and this is the ultimate way to attract their attention,” Billing said. “They also tend to feel more personal, which is great for connecting with your audience and forming relationships.”

Social media has a large role in today’s world. It’s people like Billing who have a huge impact on what we see, so it’s important to consider their opinions on what they do.

“Ultimately, I believe that social media is a great tool for keeping us connected, sharing information, and promoting one’s business or product,” Billing said.

However, she also agrees that social media can be detrimental to a person’s health if used incorrectly, and the breaks and moderation of use are essential. She emphasized the importance of remembering that social media feeds are branding tools and that not everything that is online is real.

Currently, Billing is enrolled in a Digital Marketing Certification course so she can take her career to the next step. She will be incorporating this course into her daily work routine for the next six months in hopes of learning more in the marketing/branding field.

Another thing that Billing is working toward is combining her passion for talking and communicating with people with her passion for social media. The end goal: become a radio program or podcast host.

Where are all the bikes? A look into the supply chain shortages in Tampa Bay

Where are all the bikes? A look into the supply chain shortages in Tampa Bay

Prospective cyclists are finding a lack of bicycles and a scarcity of repair parts due to the global supply chain crisis and hyperinflation.

By Matthew Lee

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. —The global supply chain and hyperinflation issue has increased both goods and professional services, and the bicycle industry is no exception to the worldwide economic phenomenon.

Since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the United States were urged to social distance and to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus. Individuals took advantage of the situation they were dealt with to invest in new hobbies and extracurricular activities, resulting in people purchasing bicycles for exercise and enjoyment.

According to cyclist mechanic at The Bike Room, Bailey Arnold, the shop in St. Petersburg saw a decrease in business when the pandemic started.

“Midway through the pandemic, we noticed an increase in business because people wanted to go outside during lockdowns. It seems people remembered what it’s like to enjoy outside” Arnold said.

Bailey Arnold, a mechanic at The Bike Room in St. Petersburg, works on repairs for a customer’s bicycle. Photo by Matthew Lee

The market for purchasing bicycles and issuing repairs is slowly improving, but many bicycle shops are issuing wait lists for both purchases and repairs.

“As of right now, we are not issuing waitlists since we are unable to acquire new bikes for customers, so we are just sticking to repairs,” Arnold said. “Due to the current supply chain issues, bicycle manufacturers are trying to accommodate bike shops by giving each a fair share of bikes to sell to customers. When it comes to issuing repairs for customers, individuals who use their bicycles as their main source of transportation are priority repairs over causal riders.”

To adapt to the rise of inflation and increase business, The Bike Room instated a mobile mechanic truck to drive out to events and issue repairs by bringing the repair shop directly to their customers across the St. Petersburg area.

In a combination with the constant influx of new people moving to Florida every day and the rise in gas prices, some bike riders are opting for more bicycle riding to avoid the harsh traffic and to save some extra money.

“The recent increase in gas prices and inflation absolutely motivated me to use my bike more,” said University of South Florida student, Peyton Lebron.

“Whether or not I prefer biking as my main source of transportation really depends on where I’m going and what I’m doing, and if I have any cargo that can’t fit my backpack. I also have to rely on my car to get to my job and internship in St. Petersburg due to my home being an hour away
by car. I tend to try and only use my car as a last resort, especially due to its age and gas prices.” Lebron said.

A cyclist enjoys the clear skies and sunny weather on a ride through downtown St. Petersburg. Photo by Matthew Lee

If you’re considering purchasing a bicycle or riding more frequently to save money on gasoline, please comply with bicycle safety regulations and learn tips to prioritize safety by reading bayfront health’s article on how to stay safe on your bike at

‘Artrepreneur’ shares passion for blending art and wellness

‘Artrepreneur’ shares passion for blending art and wellness

By Samantha Skye

Olivia Mansion wears many hats.

As the co-founder, chief marketing officer and director of communications and artist relations at Fairgrounds St. Pete, Mansion is passionate about art and wellness and works to bring the two together through her entrepreneurial endeavors.

“In my role, I have the pleasure of supporting our artists in bringing their artwork to life, telling the story of Fairgrounds St. Pete, and working with our founders to shape the direction of the company,” Olivia said in a Beyond the Conversations interview. “It is a love letter to Florida.”

Fairgrounds showcases the beauty that is in Florida so that we can collectively preserve it.

From upstate New York, Mansion and her family would vacation in Florida and, on one of those trips, she learned about the University of Tampa and knew it was where she belonged.

“I came down to Florida for college and then, just like any Latino family that can’t let their kids go, my parents actually ended up moving down to Tampa,” Mansion said.

Mansion has a master’s in education, English linguistics and cross-cultural studies from Brown University and a master’s in entrepreneurship from The University of Tampa, according to her profile on the Fairgrounds website.

On an exclusive tour of Fairgounds for the Tampa Bay Times, Mansion said “If you’re one of those people that loves mysteries, who likes digging deep into things that are curious, you’ll just love it.”

She and her business partner help employ artists at Fairgrounds St. Pete, which ensures fair compensation and equitable opportunities.

“We have a dream team. Everyone here is committed, they’re creative, they’re kind and we’re very collaborative. . . Everybody’s very talented and everybody has their own expertise,” she said.

Olivia Mansion is the co-founder of Fairgrounds St. Pete and said love of entrepreneurship and this city inspired her to help create the permanent, immersive art exhibit.
Courtesy of Fairgrounds St. Pete

She considers their collective energy quite powerful.

Mansion is a big proponent of health and wellness, practicing self-love and self-care whenever possible.

“I believe wholeheartedly in wellness and being a whole person… I’m definitely a seeker so I’ve tried many different things, but I came across breathwork and I tried Wim Hof (a famous breathwork teacher),” she said.

Hof’s process became a gateway for Mansion to feel how powerful our breath is and how it’s a free tool when used wisely.

On Instagram, she calls herself the “boujie breathwork teacher,” with the tagline “Helping you have that Main Character energy using your breath.” She helps her breathwork clients de-stress and focus on being present more often than not, which is a feat in today’s overstimulating world.

Mansion even has a podcast called Immersive Breathwork. One breathwork technique is free, but her online course costs $11.11, which is considered a sign to become aware and conscious of your actions.

“Numbers are the universal language offered by the deity to humans as confirmation of the truth,” according to the late St. Augustine de Hippo.

“We have to prioritize ourselves and our well-being before anything or anyone,” Mansion said.

She swears by her routine of running, drinking lots of water, meditating, breathwork, journaling and taking a moment of gratitude outside surrounded by nature.

Her husband, Mikhail Mansion, is an interdisciplinary artist and engineer who uses technology to release creative expression and bring immersive experiences to life, according to ArtScape. His work can be experienced in a permanent exhibit at Fairgrounds St. Pete. Together, they founded OK! Transmit back in 2018, where one can attend talks, presentations, workshops and experimental performances focused on innovation and new media.

Chris Parks, known as Palehorse, and his wife have curated, then hosted and organized, the Shine Mural Festival since 2015. In 2018, he met Mansion who told him about Fairgrounds St. Pete and then, in 2020, they had their first Zoom call to kick off a prosperous partnership. According to Parks, Olivia is always in a cheerful mood and has a contagious charm. She’s very organized and professional.

Parks believes he was the first artist they contacted about the concept. What interested him about the opportunity was having the creative freedom to really imagine the space and bring his vision to life without working from a brief.

“She was really open to the ideas that I had during the lockdown,” he said.

Getting to create a full, immersive space with the help of producers and few restrictions were what sold him on working with Fairgrounds St. Pete.
Posters, pins and stickers are a few items Parks has to offer in the gift store, but the items that have been moving the most are his printed shirts and hand-embellished skateboards.

“I’ve enjoyed having a little shop locally … and the immersive space online” to use as a showroom for his work, Parks said.

His work is based on Hindu mythology and meditation, as well as symbols.

“I’m a huge fan of his work professionally and his wellness work… He has a weekly meditation session that he hosts on Wednesday nights,” Mansion said.

“Entrepreneurship is an extension of ourselves… It’s such a creative medium. You get to just share your message, share your product, service, with the world and help people solve a problem,” she said.

Share about your business and learn to love sales. Be confident in your ask – we’re open for business; this is our product/service and this is the price, Mansion said. And, she recommends approaching these conversations with confidence.

Some of her other tips for aspiring entrepreneurs:

  1. Focus on one idea and one concept, then change your strategy around that one thing. Entrepreneurs tend to jump from one project to another without spending enough time and energy on the first one to see it succeed. It’s easy to get discouraged when something isn’t working.
  2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and/or ask a professional for their input. “Seek those around you and see if there is even a market need for what you’re doing. Our customers validate what we do.”
  3. Focus on your health and well-being more than anything because what makes you a good entrepreneur is feeling complete and ready to make courageous, yet difficult decisions.
    Connect with Olivia Mansion on LinkedIn to set your entrepreneurial spirit on fire.

‘Take Back the Dome’ movement urges reparations to St. Petersburg’s Black community

‘Take Back the Dome’ movement urges reparations to St. Petersburg’s Black community

By Sierra Laco

A local organization is working on an initiative of material and financial reparations to demand the return of the 86 acres of land under Tropicana Field to St. Petersburg’s Black community.

The Uhuru Solidarity Movement (USM) is a local organization of white people led by the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP). Originated locally under the leadership of St. Petersburg native and APSP co-founder Omali Yeshitela, the movement aims to organize the white community to build a mass movement for reparations to the Black community in solidarity with the Black community’s struggle for liberation.

The land that the Tropicana Field sits upon was once a vibrant Black community. Built between 1890 and 1900, the “Gas Plant District” housed over 100 Black-owned businesses, 800 Black Families, and numerous Black churches. In 1986, the city began the destruction of this community to build the Tropicana Field on the land.

The USM has crafted a feasible economic plan for the city of St. Petersburg to return the land back to its Black citizens—28.6% of which currently live below the poverty line. The USM is hosting a community rally to demand that these reparations are given to the local Black community, and they are also hosting a community teach-in to inform St. Pete locals about the tragic history of the Gas Plant District.

In the 1980s, the city of St. Petersburg displaced over 800 Black families to build what is now known as Tropicana Field. The Uhuru Solidarity Movement is demanding the city to give back what was stolen. | Photo by Sierra Laco

Jamie Simpson, an organizer for the St. Petersburg branch of the USM, is leading the task force to get these events organized and ready for the community to attend. As a former University of South Florida St. Petersburg student and frequent visitor to the school, Simpson hopes that more USFSP students will join the movement and its current initiatives.

“USF St. Pete is a great place to recruit for the Uhuru Solidarity Movement because students are often excited to find out there’s something they can do to advocate for change,” Simpson said. “There is a lot of participation and activism that can be won on campus.”

Some professors at USFSP have been vocal in their support of many of the movement’s initiatives. Julie Armstrong, a literature professor at USF and former professor of Simpson; and Chairman of the National Uhuru Solidarity Movement Jesse Nevel, encourage their students to take action with the movement.

Members of the movement often visit USFSP to inform students of what it’s doing and how they can get involved.

One of the students who has recently become involved with the USM is Paige LaMaster, a current pre-med student at USFSP. She met Simpson while he was tabling on campus, and she instantly became interested in the organization and what they stand for.

When asked what advice she would give to other students that are interested in becoming involved with the USM, she had a simple yet powerful answer.

“I would say 100% to get involved with the meetings. Just sit down for one and see some of the people from the committee, get to each other and from there you would realize that it’s actually a very open and welcoming organization you can participate in,” LaMaster said.

The USM hosted the “Reparations Now! Take Back the Dome” Community Rally on Feb. 9 at the Uhuru House located at 1245 18th Ave S. The USM will also host a “Take Back the Dome” Community Teach-in at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 5 at Booker Creek Park, 2300 13th Ave N.

Anyone interested in the movement can visit to learn more.

Morean Studio is Tampa Bay’s hub for glass blowing

Morean Studio is Tampa Bay’s hub for glass blowing

By Emerson Taylor

SAINT PETERSBURG – Downtown St. Petersburg is a center for art and culture, and the Morean Glass Studio is a spot for artists and visitors to view demonstrations and the products being sold.

Despite the fact that consumers utilize glassware nearly every day, glass as a medium for art is relatively recent in the American glass movement. According to the History of Glass, glass blowing dates back to the 1st century B.C. in Syria, but new techniques developed in the 1820s updated the process by mechanically pressing heated glass.

There are a variety of art collections and art workshops that any visitor should see when visiting the Tampa Bay area. Whether you want to go to the Hot Shop or the Dale Chihuly exhibit across the street from the studio. Jewelry-making, metal sculpture, mixed media, painting, photography, printing and more are all available to the public to take at the Hot Shop.

Bao Thao, the shop’s store manager, who has been there for four years gave an exclusive interview on the studio. Thao is a professional artist that worked as an independent contractor up into a position at the glass studio.

Thao pursued a degree in glass blowing at the University of Wisconsin Madison and longtime friend Matt Evanbrock introduced her to the Arts Center. Thao, at the time, was living in Alaska because of her position in the AmeriCorps. She had never heard of St. Petersburg and moved.

Being the “studio b****” for a year and a tenacious worker eventually landed her a full-time job as the retail store manager. Thao frequently uses the furnace and equipment, her art is even featured inside the store.

“People think that glass is a very mysterious, like a magical medium,” said Bao Thao, the store manager for the Hot Shop at the Morean Arts Center in downtown St. Petersburg.

Why should people come to the Arts Center?

Thao: “People think that glass is a very mysterious, like a magical medium.. The American glass movement is very young,” she said. “It’s really interesting to see how glass is made, especially if you have no history with it. You don’t understand all how it works, but we use glass every day… To have a place like an art center like this, where we have those resources to teach people about this medium that we use every day, is also really helpful,”

What is something about glassblowing that the average person probably would not know?

Thao: “You cannot master glass until you have over 10,000 hours or so of working with glass… It is very difficult to work with,” she said. “In the beginning classes, when I was teaching glassblowing, it was very intense and intimidating. The furnaces are 2000 degrees, so once you get used to that, and like, you know, you can start to form your bubbles and shape it, and it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of time to actually really master the craft.

Why is art important to society?

Thao: “Art is a way of documenting our culture. Everything that we consume and use is artistic, everything that we use is artistic, even engineers and architects have created, so there is an art form to it. Everything is art it is and so, to be interested in art, to collect art, is collecting a piece of your own history and collecting a piece of our future as well.”

The Morean Arts Center and studio is the Tampa Bay area’s hub for learning glass blowing and shopping artisan glass pieces. | Photos by Emerson Taylor

Whatever your interests are, Morean offers something catered for you. There are classes and exhibits for everyone, whether you want to learn how to manufacture an ornament or just admire Dale Chihuly’s work.

USF St. Petersburg student, Sierra Laico, is a guest services associate at the studio. Laico stresses that her job has transformed into a learning experience for her. The Morean gives artists and those interested in art a place to come and enrich their minds.

“I’ve learned how much work they put into creating something—I consider myself lucky to work alongside some of the most hardworking and talented people in the city,” she said.


The Chihuly Collection, Morean Glass Studio and the Arts Center are open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit today at Central Avenue and Eighth Avenue and discover the interesting world of glass blowing.

Artists shine at St. Petersburg’s 7th annual mural festival

By Lauren Wood

Artist Woes Martin paints a third panda bear on his mural at 2343 Emerson Ave. S in St. Petersburg. Photo by Lauren Wood

Armed with a palette of colors, a handful of rollers and the support of early 2000s Black Eyed Peas songs, Emily Ding begins her 10-day project for the seventh annual SHINE Mural Festival in downtown St. Petersburg.

She draws upon feelings of self-growth and rebirth to produce an image of a baby deer in a bed of flowers, inspired by the city and the Rob Graham Enterprises building itself.

“It’s like Bambi but extra, extra, extra large,” Ding said. “I heard a bunch of perspectives from people inside this building, Rob Graham Enterprises, and how they do their business through a lot of hardships.”

Her artwork, which explores the concepts of flora, fauna and human behavior, is illustrated in a gentle, painterly style. It is reminiscent of an animal folklore book she received from her father when she was younger.

“I usually like to convey human emotions by using animals. I like to focus on conflicting emotions, or tender emotions, or both,” Ding said.

Beyond her beginnings in Houston, Texas, Ding’s work stretches to places such as Bali, Indonesia, and Shanghai, China. As an American-born Chinese artist, this project was particularly special for Ding.

“It was really cool painting where I’m from. It was really close to where my dad’s from, and my aunt visited, and my grandma saw my tattoos and saw me as a muralist,” Ding said.

Ding has other murals displayed across the United States, such as in Nevada, Indiana, Texas, Florida, and Michigan, where she was a part of the Flint Public Art Project in 2019.

She has also completed some murals in Los Angeles, where another SHINE mural artist is based.

Aaron “Woes” Martin, born on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, has been creating graffiti art since the late 1990s. Though his first mural was completed in 2010, he has since worked with major international corporations like Disney, Kidrobot, New Era and even Fandango for the release of Kung Fu Panda 3.

Martin is most known for his linework and vicious panda bears, with fang-like teeth, vacant eyes and sharpened claws. They were the product of a friend’s mistake, leaving Martin to paint with only two colors: black and white.

“It was a mistake, actually. I was painting a grizzly bear, but my friend forgot to bring my paint, so I only had black and white, so I had to roll with black and white,” Martin said.

Since then, these paradoxical panda bears have been Martin’s staple, following him worldwide and repopulating places like Switzerland, Mongolia, Berlin and Japan.

“I kind of adopted the fact that pandas were on the extinct list … so I was like, forget it, I’m going to try and put pandas all over the place,” Martin said.

During his time at the SHINE Mural Festival, Martin estimated that he uses approximately 300 cans of spray paint for his warehouse mural. After finishing this year’s mural, he wishes to come back and complete more art for the city one day.

“You guys have a lot of cool murals, and no one disses them, you know? I love it,” Martin said.

Although the SHINE Mural Festival ended on Oct. 24, Ding’s and Martin’s work still lives at 100 Seventh St. S. and 2343 Emerson Ave. S, respectively.

Emily Ding’s mural in progress at 100 Seventh St. S in St. Petersburg.
Photo by Lauren Wood