Fall in St. Petersburg isn’t just jack-o’-lanterns and spiced lattes. It’s also the backdrop to the annual SHINE Mural Festival, produced by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. This unique art festival has added nearly 150 murals across the city since 2015, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Jenee Preibe volunteered with the festival in 2016. Three years later, she was hired as its director. “As a community volunteer, I aided artists with their works. I was so blown away by the experience that I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she says. “These murals are very accessible.  Anyone can see them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and for free. It fits a range of tastes and there is something for everyone to like.”

The excitement has not dimmed for her. And while the activity comes to a head in October, the festival is really a year-long process of curating and organizing. While some artists may send in an application to be a part of the program, SHINE also reaches out to directly invite others. 

What does it take to be a SHINE muralist? “We are looking for diversity of artists’ styles and backgrounds,” she says. “We consider where they are from, and how they add new voices to the larger scope of the murals that we have done over the years. To me, it illuminates the power of art in public spaces. We are celebrating artists in their creative art and freedom.”

SHINE artist Tracey Jones’ work on a Tampa wall. Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance

Unlike other mural festivals, says Preibe, SHINE allows the artists to have creative freedom without elements of branding or marketing the businesses that they adorn. 

“The murals truly celebrate the artist’s voice in the landscape of the city,” she adds. 

The artists also get the same amount of funding, providing equal financial footing for all involved. There are a variety of sources that finance the event, including a grant from the city, the state’s art and culture department, a Nation Endowment of the Arts grant, corporate sponsorship, and individual donations. 

Chris Dyer, an internationally known mural artist who was born in Canada and spent his childhood in Peru, recently moved to St. Petersburg. He’s excited to add his work to the city he now considers home. 

“I came here by intuition, and I like the area because it’s big enough to get your city fix, but small enough to still find nature,” he says. “It’s an artsy place augmented by the museums. It’s a relaxed place with sun, a lot of culture, and a great place to be. I have been well received here.”

Dyer’s pieces, he explains, feature inter-dimensional beings – creatures that reside in some other realm. “I believe that there is a lot more than what we perceive in this dimension… supernatural ideals, cluster consciousnesses, plant medicine. I learn a lot about the nature of reality through my art and it manifests in my works.”  

Dyer also ties the pieces to the locations where they are painted. In this case, his mural is designated for the Warehouse Arts District. “I like to sit with the wall, feel it out. I let the energy flow out through the mind … it’s more like a channeling of what’s supposed to be there, kind of intuitive. There is a diversity of races, people, and cultures that live here, and it’s like a cultural stew; I am coming to throw in my own ingredients into the mix.”

SHINE 9 Concept Poster. Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance

Tracy Jones is a mural artist hailing from Tampa. She’s been a graphic designer for 20 years and started painting 13 years ago. For SHINE, she’s preparing to work on the PTSA ticket booth building at Williams Park.  

“I want to do something that shows that it is a ticket booth, but also coat it in vibrant colors, cool textures like those found in fabrics, and add little pops of park history,” she says. “I just want to bring a little happiness to the place.”

Jones ties the SHINE experience to another mural festival she did last year. It was a community mural and she was assigned helpers from a girls’ group home. “My whole goal was to give them something to be proud of when they saw the finished mural. Then, and now for SHINE, I want the place to be beautiful, I want everyone to be able to enjoy artwork in that area, and anyone who is facing hardships to see something bright and vibrant to help them feel better.” 

However, Jones does remember what it’s like to do outdoor mural painting in Florida in October. “It’s very taxing on your body when you are doing these things in the sun. I will be hydrating a lot for that. I will call for help from fellow artists if needed. It’s a lot for one person to do by yourself for one week.” 

SHINE artist Sarah Sheppard’s work. Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance

The labor of love is appreciated on multiple levels, however, as the murals do more than just liven up city walls. 

“We have had economic impact studies done in the past and are preparing to do another one,” Preibe explains. “We know that the festival brings people here – 65% of event attendees come from outside of Pinellas County. The murals have also drawn attention to different parts of St. Petersburg – for example the Grand Central District – and helped to bring positive change.” 

Even in the last of the summer heat, organizers know people are excited to come out and watch the artists in action.

“We’ll have bike tours going the first and second weekend,” Preibe adds. “I encourage people to come out, especially that last weekend.”

As a bonus, this festival is the first in the world to have an accessible audio tour and technology to connect viewers to the art. Online contact information can be found via PixelStix which is accessible through a free downloadable app. Visitors can touch the app to the available plaques and learn the history of each unique creation, past and present. 

Preibe says they have one more addition to look forward to in 2024, for SHINE’s 10th anniversary: “We are putting together a book for release that will show the decade of mural paintings – all that we have created.”

Artist Chris Dyer stands in front of his previous work. Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance

For artists and visitors alike, SHINE is often an unforgettable experience, and one that leaves a massive, lasting presence in the city. 

“I really want to express my gratitude to the folks of SHINE and other creative folks who make sure that St. Pete is a beautiful place to come to,” says Jones. “Visitors can come and see just how many talented people are here just by looking at the walls. I’m grateful to anyone giving a spotlight to local arts.”

This year’s SHINE Mural Festival runs October 13 to 22, with special events during the October 14 Second Saturday Art Walk. The closing reception is slated for Chad Mize’s Space gallery on October 22. For more, follow @shineonstpete on social media or visit stpeteartsalliance.org/shine-mural-festival.