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The year in review: Arts and entertainment

There’s rarely a dull moment in St. Petersburg. Arts, culture and entertainment are continually vibrant, continually challenging and continually changing … all signs of a healthy environment.

Yes, a lot happened in 2023. Looking back, here are the top 10 stories that will come to define it – accomplishments, innovations, fun stuff and even (at the end) a bit of sad stuff. Entertainment and the arts being an essential part of life in any city.

And here’s to more in ’24.

The Dali Dome

Dali Museum administrators have made no secret about their desire to push the envelope, technologically speaking. Each new temporary exhibit – from Magritte to Picasso to the Impressionist asters – has included a new form of interactive creation. Several allowed visitors to “paint” themselves (via AI) into something extraordinary, in the style of the artists in display. July brought the arrival of the Dali Dome, a geodesic structure – in the museum’s back yard – rising 43 feet above the ground, and stretching 60 feet across. Inside, multiple high definition projectors immerse guests in a fluid, 360-degree interpretive video/audio tour of Salvador Dali’s life and work. It’s as eerie, and as fascinating, as it sounds.

Come on feel the Sound

Mid-summer brought the long-awaited arrival of Clearwater’s renovated Coachman Park. Operated by Ruth Eckerd Hall, The Sound amphitheater has a total seating capacity of 4,000 covered seats, and lawn seating for 5,000 more. Cheap Trick inaugurated the venue with a free concert June 28, and others to ply their trade on the Sound stage have included Kenny Loggins, Gavin DeGraw, Ringo Starr, Dwight Yoakam, Chris Young, Steve Miller, Sammy Hagar, Billy Currington and Jesse James Decker, Chicago and the Coachman perennial the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.

“Ragtime” (at Demens Landing Park) became the third-best attended show in American Stage history. Photo provided.

American Stage returns

The arrival of Helen R. Murray as producing artistic director gave American Stage an infusion of energy and adventure in 2024, after a noticeable dip in quality (and attendance) in ’22 and ’21. April’s full-bodied production of the musical Ragtime, directed by Erica Sutherlin in Demens Landing Park, broke attendance records, while Murray made her local directorial debut in October with Paula Vogel’s gut-wrenching drama-with-music Indecent.

Warehouse Arts expansion

The Warehouse Arts District Association campus expanded in April, as a new outdoor performance stage –  23×13 feet, standing three feet off the ground – was christened by executive director Markus Gottschlich. Located on the reverse side of St. Pete’s 9-11 memorial, the aluminum stage handily folds up, its underside serving as a movie screen that can (again, quite handily) be clicked into place. The 54-year-old Academy of Ballet Arts became a tenant inside WADA’s nearby ArtsXChange headquarters, making good us of the recently-installed sprung dance floor and rehearsal space.

The road to OZ

Eric Davis, the founder and artistic director of freeFall Theater, and freeFall’s musical director Michael Raabe’s OZ: A New Musical debuted in June. The longtime collaborators began crafting their musical based on the home and family life of Wizard of Oz creator L. Frank Baum in 2019, but the pandemic and its aftermath kept moving it to the back burner. OZ was a sizeable hit with bay area audiences.

Pier concerts

When the Rise Up St. Pete concert series was launched at Spa Beach (on the St. Pete Pier) in November, it was a smash right out of the gate. Who knew the city wanted (or needed) another outdoor concert series? Yet Rise Up, produced by the same company that brings the annual Reggae Rise Up Festival to Vinoy Park every year (a $22 million infusion into the local economy), has drawn thousands every time. Ludacris played the gig Dec. 15; next up, Jan. 6, is Atmosphere, Brother Ali, RJD2, SA-ROC and Zoodeville.

Taylor Swift makes history at Raymond James Stadium. Photo by Mardi Bell Bessello.

Big sellouts

Taylor Swift – the pop artist du jour – sold out three consecutive nights at Raymond James Stadium in April, performing to a total of 206,000 fans. Other (one night only) sellouts included Beyonce (August), Ed Sheeran (May), George Strait and Chris Stapleton (August) and, over two July nights, Luke Combs. The stadium’s concert capacity is $75,000. In other news, Sheeran added a last-minute “intimate” show at Ruth Eckerd Hall during his weekend visit, and sold that out, too.

SHINE on

For its ninth year, the city’s SHINE Mural Festival continued to attract national attention – and national artists, many of whom confirmed that a week in Florida, in October, is hard to resist. That, and the festival’s reputation as world-class and welcoming. SHINE got its first two-year title sponsor, the 88-residence condominium tower Reflection St. Pete, and Director Jenee Priebe is already hard at work planning the 10th anniversary festival for 2024.

Revolving doors

There were notable shifts in upper management at art museums and other cultural organizations. The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art named Robin Nicholson its new executive director in April; David Flatt became executive director of the Dali Museum in May; Ignacio Barrón Viela took over as president and CEO of The Florida Orchestra in June; On Nov. 5, it was announced that Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg executive director and CEO Anne-Marie Russell would step down in March; Bob Devin Jones, the co-founder and longtime leader of thestudio@620, announced his retirement for mid-2024, and named Erica Sutherlin as his replacement. Longtime Creative Pinellas director Barbara St. Clair retired at the end of the year.

Passages

Those from the St. Pete arts community we lost included legendary jazz and civil rights photographer Herb Snitzer (Dec. 31, 2022), artists Mark Noll (June) and James Michaels (October) and drummer Pat Close (November).

Herb Snitzer. Photo by Tom Kramer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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