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 https://www.bayfrontstpete.com/content-hub/bicycle-safety.

‘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 uhurusolidarity.org 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.

Visit:

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

Love grows: The future of urban farming in St. Petersburg

By Lauren Wood

Two of Brick Street Farms’ hydroponic pods at the urban farmstead in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central Arts district.

In the heart of the Grand Central Arts and Warehouse Districts lies a 48-acre farm that grows and harvests crops 365 days a year — all within a few hydroponic shipping containers.

What was once an idea in an overrun junkyard on the corner of 2001 2nd Ave. S in St. Petersburg is now the future home to Brick Street Farms’ hubs. This urban farmstead focuses on the future of food security, food safety and ecological sustainability.

“The market here is pretty special because not only do we have fresh produce that is from our farms on-site, but we also have a lot of local produce as well,” Jonathan “Jonny” Cheng said.

Cheng has been with Brick Street Farms as a farm support specialist since February. Over the summer, he got his master’s degree from the University of South Florida (USF) in food sustainability and security. Still, he wishes to stay with Brick Street Farms as the company expands.

“I’m hoping that we can possibly teach about [hydroponics] in the future to lower-income areas and kind of help those communities have their own sustainable food,” Cheng said.

In 2016, owners Shannon O’Malley and Brad Doyle purchased the industrial-zoned lot with hopes to provide locally-sourced and health-conscience foods to St. Petersburg. Now, they are expanding to other areas in Tampa Bay and have partnered with larger vendors to offer an adequate farm-to-table experience for consumers.

According to O’Malley, in January 2020, Brick Street Farms sold 12 times its projected volume at its test site at a Publix Supermarket in Lakeland. This encouraged O’Malley and Doyle to open other locations in the area, including their newly-renovated home base in St. Petersburg, which will open in 2022.

A “first look” rendering of Brick Street Farms’ urban-cultivation hub was revealed in October, with promises to incorporate solar energy and smart energy management in the new model. As a result, this will help Brick Street Farms gain the most out of their non-carbon-generating electricity sources.

“These systems will be able to determine the most efficient, least carbon impact power source at any given time, choosing between the electric utility, on-site solar power with battery storage and on-site natural gas generator,” Brick Street Farms wrote in an Instagram post.

Currently, Brick Street Farms is situated at 2233 3rd Ave. S in St. Petersburg with 16 individual hydroponic farms. All pods were carefully designed to grow produce, control energy sources and minimize the carbon footprint.

Each Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) container holds approximately 2-3 acres of farmland, with arugula, spinach, basil, mixed kale and 40 other herbs and vegetables. However, all produce is non-GMO and grown without soil, which means there is no pesticide, insecticide or the possibility of soil-borne contamination.

“What CEA does for us is it gives us mitigation against climate change. Obviously, our farmers are struggling, we’ve got crazy weather patterns, but now we can control that interior environment,” said Dr. Brooke Hansen, a sustainability-focused anthropologist from USF who specializes in food tourism, waste management and farming.

Hansen believes that urban farming and agriculture can potentially divert greenhouse gas, waste and hunger issues while simultaneously providing citizens with locally produced, nutritious and healthy foods.

“I don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all solution everywhere. I think it’s one part of a multifaceted solution package that needs to include community gardens, regenerative agriculture, you know, actually in the ground, promoting soil biodiversity, but it’s one of many solutions,” Hansen said. “It allows us to grow food in places where we normally couldn’t, i.e. a parking lot in St. Petersburg. I love that. It’s a farm, and it’s truly amazing.”

Learn more about Brick Street Farms and shop its online store at BrickStreetFarms.com.

Local artists realize dream to paint in St. Petersburg’s SHINE Mural Festival

By Candice Lovelace

Photo by Candice Lovelace

This year’s SHINE Mural Festival featured two new local artists for its seventh anniversary.

The festival started in 2015 with the goal of shining a light on the power of art in public spaces by revitalizing areas, inspiring dialogues and uniting our community.

Artists use the walls and streets of St. Petersburg to transform the city’s shared spaces into an outdoor gallery featuring top artists from around the area, country and the world. Since the start of this festival, more than 100 murals have been created around St. Petersburg and its art districts.

Laura Spencer, an illustrator, and Jared Wright, a freelance artist, were both invited to participate in this year’s festival for the first time. Spencer, also known as Miss Crit, was born and raised in St. Petersburg, while Wright is originally from Clearwater, but now resides in Trinity.

Spencer was overjoyed and humbled when she was invited to participate in this year’s festival.

“Participating in SHINE has been a dream of mine since the Mural Festival’s inception,” Spencer said. “It’s been a really rough year for me personally, so getting that email from SHINE was a huge, humbling experience – I really hope to make myself and everyone proud with this one!”

A few years ago, Spencer had the privilege of designing an electrical box for SHINE. Since then, she has hustled to gain more mural experience. It’s important for Spencer to create art in the context of her surroundings.

“This is a continuation of a floral concept I started for a mural series at The Blueberry Patch (in Gulfport) earlier this year,” Spencer said. “It just so happens that this mural is on the side of a florist shop too – Absolutely Beautiful Flowers! It’s really important to me to create art in the context of my surroundings, so I think this is a satisfying design solution.”

Wright was “super excited” when he was invited to participate in this year’s festival. He called it the “perfect opportunity.”

“I’ve always wanted to contribute to the local art scene and this was just about the perfect opportunity,” Wright said.

Wright’s inspiration for his mural was an idea he’s had in his head for a while. When he got invited, this idea was the first thing he started sketching up.

“The concept is an owl holding a snake,” Wright said while describing his mural. “The snake is wrapping around the whole mural almost framing it, but the snake and owl are not fighting… The narrative is loose, but it’s about the harmony and balance of nature.”

Wright has never created a mural before but has always admired murals and muralists.

“I actually have never done any murals before, but I have been a fan since I can remember,” Wright said. “I’m excited to see how this turns out.”

This year’s festival ran from Oct. 15 to Oct. 24.

Spencer’s mural can be found at Absolutely Beautiful Flowers located at 3000 Central Ave., while Wright’s can be found at Colony Grill located at 670 Central Ave.

Photo by Candice Lovelace

St. Petersburg welcomes 20 new murals during 2021 SHINE festival

By Mark Griffin

Artist Greg Mike painted this cartoon-themed mural at 915 1st Ave. N in St. Petersburg. Photo by Mark Griffin

When the seventh annual SHINE Mural Festival concluded, St. Petersburg has added 20 new murals to its collection.

Throughout the years, SHINE has drawn in artists from around the world to showcase their skills in large-scale mural paintings.

The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance (SPAA) produces the event each year. The local non-profit organization said its goal is to, “raise money through individual and corporate gifts, event sponsorships, and grants that support community-wide arts efforts.”

During SHINE, which ran Oct. 15-24, artists could be seen creating their art while mingling with the city’s residents.

This year, seven artists from the Tampa Bay area participated in the SHINE Festival. One Tampa artist who goes by the name of Jujmo created her illustrated version of a jungle that can be found at 2221 5th Ave. S.

Jujmo was also involved with one of three “Bright Spot” murals that were designed to teach children in the area about mural painting and art. She draws her inspiration from anime, color and folklore which is evident when looking at her artwork.

When asked why she participated in this year’s SHINE festival Jujmo said, “I wanted to participate because not only do I get to paint a massive wall, being with your artistic peers that you’ve looked up to through the years is just a different experience. I literally get so excited being around them.”

As residents walked around the downtown area seeing the murals in their beginning stages, a sense of community took hold. People could be seen snapping pictures of the work in progress. Local shops and bars were full of patrons who were drawn in by this year’s event. Artists interacted with residents and shared their inspiration with admirers.

BakPak Durden, an artist from Detroit, Mich., showcased their mural at 919 1st Ave. N, which is home to local bar The Bends, known for its live music and monthly art shows.

“Pretty much the entire experience has been delightful. Everyone has been very kind. The festival organizers are very thoughtful, and I could tell how much care and intention went into everything,” Durden said. “And the folks at The Bends were excited for me to paint, so that was great.”

More than 100 murals have been painted since SHINE’s beginning in 2015. Now, 20 more can be enjoyed by locals and tourists walking through the city.

The early stages of artist BakPak Durden’s mural at 919 1st Ave. N in St. Petersburg. Photo by Mark Griffin