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Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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‘Pop-up’ art displays gain popularity in St. Pete

ST PETERSBURG — As this city’s arts scene grows, so, too, does demand for alternative venues for displaying and selling art.

In recent months there has been a wave of pop-up galleries, temporary but inexpensive – sometimes free – alternatives to traditional venues. While conventional galleries either charge a commission on pieces sold or charge a rate for wall space, local pop-ups, like the live art demonstrations at the St. Pete Indie Market and the St. Pete Art Mash, charge participating artists little, if anything.

The temporary collections show up pretty much anywhere there is wall or tent space, and a willing proprietor. That can be a bar, a vacant warehouse or a street market.

Last month’s Art Mash took place in a vacant air-conditioned warehouse next door to Georgie’s Alibi, and was one of about a dozen stops along the popular Second Saturday Art Walk and Trolley Tour, which winds through St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District and part of downtown.

Organizer Thompson Keller said the success of Art Mash varies from month to month, but the 30 or so artists who participated in August pulled in a total of nearly $8,000 in sales.

“It seems like it’s going pretty successfully,” he said.

Because space is limited, participants are vetted through an application process. Most are up-and-coming artists looking for exposure, and can’t afford the 40 to 50 percent commission many galleries charge to hang work.

“I’m not getting a commission. I’m not getting rich,” Keller said. “It’s solely to build a more welcoming environment for new artists. They can pass their savings on to their customers.”

At the St. Pete Indie Market, held the first Saturday of each month, artists engraving leather or painting oil on canvas pay a minimal fee of $10 to catch the foot traffic along the 600 block of Central Avenue.

David Sigel has turned his love for painting Florida landscapes with a palette knife into a full-time gig by taking his portable booth to markets and art festivals which charge him much less than galleries.

He often pre-paints his landscapes and adds trees and other details live to catch the attention of potential customers.

“It draws people. It shows them my technique and how my paintings are different,” said Sigel, who lives in Valrico.

The only downside: It takes more than two hours to set up and two hours to tear down his mobile gallery space in the punishing Florida heat.

Some pop-up events don’t charge at all. Artist Mark Stevens said he doesn’t charge a fee for his events partly because he wants to attract raw talent to the small shows he organizes. He holds them at places like The Bends and Sake Bomb, where next week he is putting on a Robot-themed art show.

“I just kind of find any place that will let us do it,” he said.

No matter where the pop-up shows set up, they usually benefit the venue as well.

Bars draw in new faces by attracting friends of artists and organizers. Edgy live art displays generate a buzz at street markets. Vacant warehouse space gets exposure among potential renters and buyers.

“It has increased our traffic and the number of inquiries we get on our neighborhood,” said real estate agent Bob Barnum, whose firm manages the warehouse property next to Georgie’s.

When the inaugural Art Mash was held earlier this year, it attracted some 350 people and someone rented the space within a week after the show left, said Viktor Kelley, who organized the first event.

“It’s a win-win situation,”he said.

Keep St. Pete Local founder Olga Bof said pop-up galleries and events are an excellent way of cultivating a brand for St. Petersburg’s growing arts community.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Bof said. “Together, people are stronger. If you’re doing things in a vacuum ... you’ll never get things out there.”

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