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The Art Lover’s Guide to St. Petersburg–Clearwater

By Susan B. Barnes

Aug 3, 2020

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The Dalí Museum is one of the most well-known cultural destinations in St. Pete–Clearwater.

Courtesy of Dalí Museum

The Dalí Museum is one of the most well-known cultural destinations in St. Pete–Clearwater.

Venture beyond the beaches in St. Pete–Clearwater and you’ll find top-notch museums, galleries, murals, and more.

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Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, AFAR continues to cover the world; there’s always room for inspiration. Note that, due to the virus, some of the following venues may be temporarily closed. Please check each venue’s website for the latest.

St. Petersburg–Clearwater may be best known for its blue skies and sunny beaches, but the area also has a world-class art scene, complete with famous museums, notable galleries, and more than 600 murals.

Once visitors have had their fun in the sun, they can tour the Dalí Museum to see the largest collection of his work outside of Spain, or pop into galleries like Duncan McClellan and Craftsman House to discover how St. Pete–Clearwater is an emerging center for glass art. Those who’d rather stay outside can take a bike or walking tour of St. Pete’s many murals instead and learn all about the colorful works from an expert guide. Each fall, St. Pete–Clearwater hosts the SHINE Mural Festival, which celebrates the area’s street art with new works by both local and international artists. 

To help you better navigate it all, we’ve gathered our favorite museums and events below, from an institution of western art to a monthly art walk with 40 participating galleries. For even more, check out the St. Pete Arts & Culture Directory, made available through the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance

The Dalí Museum

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The crown jewel of the St. Pete art scene, the Dalí Museum impresses with both its building and its collection. Designed by architect Yann Weymouth, the museum is a granite rectangle, split by a geodesic dome made of 1,062 triangular pieces of glass that sparkle in the sun. (The dome pays homage to the one that adorns the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Spain.) Inside the museum, visitors find a helix-shaped staircase that references Dalí’s obsession with the DNA molecule, plus the largest collection of his work outside of Spain. Check out nearly 300 oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings, then browse the more than 2,100 prints, photographs, posters, textiles, sculptures, and objects d’art. Afterward, head outside to explore the museum’s Avant-garden, home to a labyrinth, grotto, fountain, and wishing tree.

Museum of Fine Arts

The Museum of Fine Arts has a collection that spans 4,500 years.

Less than a mile from the Dalí Museum is the Museum of Fine Arts, which opened in 1965 as the first art museum in St. Pete. Founded by local art collector and philanthropist Margaret Acheson Stuart, it features intimate galleries filled with thousands of works, including art by Monet, Cezanne, Rodin, and Gauguin. Spanning nearly 4,500 years, the collection also features ancient Greek, Egyptian, Asian, African, pre-Columbian, and Native American art, as well as decorative pieces, glass works by Tiffany and Steuben, and new media. Housed in a special gallery, the photography collection is one of the largest and most respected in the Southeast. Hour-long tours led by knowledgeable docents are a terrific way to get a feel for the museum; they’re available every day of the week, with a special family-oriented option on Saturdays.

The James Museum 

At the James Museum, family days take place the second Saturday of each month.

Located in downtown St. Pete, the James Museum is entirely devoted to western and wildlife art. Local collectors Tom and Mary James founded the museum to showcase works they bought on trips out West, from oil paintings and ink drawings to pieces carved in stone. What started as their personal affinity for western art, landscapes, and wildlife is now a space to share artwork with guests of all ages; the museum also hosts workshops and, on the second Saturday of each month, family days.

Chihuly Collection

The Chihuly Collection is the artist’s work in a building specifically designed for showcasing it.

Seeing Dale Chihuly’s glass artwork up close is always mesmerizing, but even more so at St. Pete’s Chihuly Collection—the first installation of the artist’s work in a building specifically designed for that purpose. Here, the art and architecture work together to create a wholly unique visitor experience. Chihuly’s 20-foot Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier, designed explicitly for the Collection, welcomes guests at the entrance, while popular series like Macchia, Ikebana, Niijima Floats, Persians, and Tumbleweeds lead them through the building. Each room is devised to complement its installation, making for a museum unlike any other. 

Morean Arts Center

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The Morean Arts Center, which manages the Chihuly Collection, is a powerhouse in its own right, having founded the first art gallery south of Atlanta in 1917. That gallery still exists today, hosting contemporary art shows that are always free and open to the public, plus classes and workshops for guests of all ages. Also part of the Center are the Morean Center for Clay (the largest working pottery studio in the Southeast) and the Morean Glass Studio, which offers live glass-blowing demonstrations and the biggest art glass store in Tampa Bay. Whether you simply appreciate art or want to create some yourself, you’ll find something exciting across the Morean’s four locations.

ArtWalk

Every second Saturday of the month, from 5 to 9 p.m., St. Pete hosts its popular ArtWalk, when more than 40 galleries and studios across the city’s five art districts—Waterfront, Central, Edge, Grand Central, and Warehouse—come together as a single arts destination. Guests can walk, drive, or take trolleys between the areas and pop into galleries to see exciting new work—all for free. One popular stop during the event is ArtsXchange in the Warehouse Arts District; the studio is only open to the public during ArtWalk or by appointment, so it’s worth going to see the resident photographers, painters, graphic designers, metal artists, and other creatives at work. 

St. Pete Mural Tour

Along the St. Pete Mural Tour

When you explore St. Pete, it quickly becomes evident that the town’s creative spirit extends beyond its museums, galleries, and studios to its exterior walls and streets. Get a closer look on Florida CraftArt’s walking mural tour, which takes place every Saturday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Considered the “original St. Pete mural tour,” the experience covers four blocks in the Central Arts District and shares the stories behind 30 popular murals, with photo ops against colorful birds, fishes, bugs, and more. Beyond the tour, you can find dozens more murals across the city, especially in the Edge District, where street art shares space with swaying palm trees and stately historic buildings. 

>>Next: Plan your trip with AFAR’s Travel Guide to St. Petersburg–Clearwater

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