Florida's Beach - St Petersburg/Clearwater has become Florida's Cultural Center
St Petersburg / Clearwater

Long famous for its beaches, weather and wealth of water-related activities, St. Petersburg/Clearwater - Florida's Beach is also fast becoming the cultural center of Florida. No other beach destination in Florida offers award-winning beaches with such a variety of museums, art galleries, performing arts centers and cultural-related special events throughout 26 unique communities.

Begin with the world famous Salvador Dali Museum. This facility offers the most comprehensive collection in the world devoted exclusively to this Spanish master. Located on the scenic St. Petersburg waterfront, the museum houses 94 oils, numerous watercolors, sketches, sculptures and other objects of art - more than 2,500 items in total.

Surprisingly to most Dali novices, the artist was so much more than a noted surrealist. In his early years, Dali's early works are full of wonderful landscapes, portraits and still lifes. His later works astound with fascinating double images and immense religious paintings. Of the 18 so-called "master works" produced by Dali, six are located in the St. Petersburg museum.

St. Petersburg is home to another major museum with a growing international reputation. The Florida International Museum opened in 1995 and is an affiliate museum of the Smithsonian Institution featuring temporary exhibits of Smithsonian property. The museum's permanent exhibits feature the world's largest private collection of President John F. Kennedy memorabilia and an interactive exhibit on the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Florida International Museum exhibits transport visitors back in time to experience the Kennedy era. Galleries include a re-creation of Kennedy's Oval Office, PT 109 boat collision and a life-size facade of his birthplace in Brookline, Mass.

The Museum of Fine Arts, also in St. Petersburg, is highly respected throughout the southeastern United States and is best known for its collection of French impressionist paintings, along with European, American, pre-Columbian and Far Eastern art. Special exhibits feature works on loan from other metropolitan museums.

The St. Petersburg Museum of History and Great Explorations, The Hands-On Museum are two additional options in St. Petersburg. The Florida Holocaust Museum opened in downtown St. Petersburg in 1998. The only Holocaust Museum to feature continual Holocaust art exhibits, the Museum is the third largest in the United States. The Museum's centerpiece permanent exhibit is a boxcar used to transport people to Nazi concentration camps.

At last count, nearly 30 art galleries are located in the downtown St. Petersburg area including the state headquarters for the Florida Craftsmen Association and signature gallery for noted artist P. Buckley Moss. The Downtown Arts Association features a Monthly Gallery Walk in St. Petersburg. Visitors start at Gallery Central (on Central Avenue between 4th and 8th Streets) and travel from there to the Waterfront, the Dome and SoHo Art Districts and then on to 4th and 9th Streets North. Tours are given from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the second Saturday monthly.

Just west of St. Petersburg is the city of Gulfport. Gulfport's ArtVillage features more than 40 galleries, studios, boutiques and restaurants all within walking distance in this pedestrian-friendly historic district. Gallery Walks with free trolley service, street entertainment and snacks run from 6-10 p.m. the first Friday and third Saturday of the month.

The Gulf Coast Museum of Art at Pinewood Cultural Park in Largo is another large facility which features a variety of classes, workshops, educational programs and a diverse exhibition schedule. The Museum operates in conjunction with the Florida Botanical Gardens and Heritage Village as three attractions in one convenient location.

The Dunedin Fine Arts Center features a variety of exhibitions, workshops and demonstrations to foster the growth and development of visual arts. It is also home to the David L. Mason Children's Art Museum.

This museum presents interactive exhibits that help children, in partnership with adults, to be creative and get a new understanding of the arts. Numerous other galleries are located throughout the area, especially in downtown Clearwater and Tarpon Springs.

The performing arts are also well represented with the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg's Bayfront Center and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Both are state-of-the-art facilities which showcase traveling Broadway shows, other leading entertainment and performances by the Florida Orchestra, Florida Ballet and Florida Opera. American Stage community theater is in St. Petersburg and offers regularly scheduled performances along with a popular "Shakespeare in the Park" series in the spring.

Special events are numerous highlighted by Artworks!, St. Pete's month-long celebration of the arts held each May and Sunsational Museums Month in November. Plus, music lovers will enjoy the Clearwater Jazz Holiday which brings in top-name jazz recording artists for four days of free concerts each October, and the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in St. Petersburg every March.

If Mother Nature is the inspiration of art, perhaps it is no wonder culture thrives throughout Florida's Beach. After all, it is one of the world's most picture perfect settings.

Photo: Visit Florida


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