While the high streets of cities and towns in the UK are looking to reinvent themselves, they might look across at St Petersburg on the west coast in Florida. Originally founded in the 1870’s and 1880’s, the city grew slowly until it boomed from the 1940s to the 1970s as the town became a popular American retirement destination. In recent years, it has reinvented itself as an arts and tourist centre. The Museum of Fine Arts started this off when it opened on the waterfront fifty years ago, to be followed with a massive expansion doubling the size of the museum in 2008. This was the first of the new developments – the Dale Chihuly Collection, housing a permanent collection of this artist’s work, opened in July 2012 and, two years later in 2014, the Salvador Dali Museum opened, housing the largest collection of Dalí’s works outside Europe.
While these may be highlights like anchor tenants in a shopping centre, an artistic and gallery community has been developing in the city and there is now an astonishing array of galleries showcasing and selling contemporary art, many from local artists. The Morean Arts Center, which dates back to 1917 as the Art Club of St. Petersburg, provides a community-based programme for art education in addition to gallery space to sell work. Attached to the Centre is the Glass Studio & Hotshop which provides working space for artists working in glass and enables visitors to watch glass-artists create work which is then sold in their well-stocked shop.
Art galleries, cafes and restaurants have sprung up and there are now five arts districts including the Waterfront, a Warehouse District and three districts along Central Avenue on which the Morean Arts Centre is located. This gives St Petersburg a distinctive identity and culture and a secure basis for the future of the city.