Derek Donnelly celebrates graffiti art – and pride of ownership

Mural artist Derek Donnelly is bringing together more than 50 graffiti artists from around the county this weekend to demonstrate their skills and techniques at his Saint Paint headquarters in Pinellas Park. The freestanding facility, at 5705 Park Blvd., is part of the multi-artist Pinellas Art Village.

“What’s really neat about this show,” Donnelly enthuses, “is these guys and girls don’t typically go and show their work in galleries. They really don’t even engage with the public much. A lot of them are the types that are running around train yards in the middle of the night, doing stuff that people only see in the daytime.”

Letter Headz, as the event is titled, will happen 6 to 11 p.m. this Friday (Sept. 22) and Saturday. The second evening coincides with the monthly Art Village Block Party, during which all of the creatives in this closely-knit Pinellas Park neighborhood throw open their studio doors for public visits.

Curated by bay area graffiti artist TASKO, Letter Headz is the third annual graffiti art event at Saint Paint, formerly known as Donnelly Cove. The artists will paint on empty carboard boxes, the ones their spray cans came in.

Both nights, there’ll be food trucks and music – and a most celebratory vibe all up and down that stretch of Park Boulevard.

For Donnelly, there are myriad reasons to celebrate. His son just this week celebrated his 3rd birthday, for one thing.

And earlier this year, the City of Pinellas Park made Donnelly a sweetheart deal on the building he’d been renting for seven years. He and several other Pinellas Art Village tenants were allowed to buy their studios. To put down real, honest-to-goodness roots.

Donnelly believes the city, which did nor make a profit on the transactions, was making an investment in the growing Pinellas Park art scene. “Dollar-wise, I lucked out and definitely got a great deal,” he says, “but one could also say we did provide the cultural experiences and helped change the blight and whatnot that was in the annual reports. It’s setting some sort of precedent to actually give us a chance at ownership in an area that we helped revitalize or change in some way.

“The fact that a municipality was willing to do that … Pinellas Park really stepped up and did something that most folks haven’t done yet. I’m really proud to be part of his community, and part of this whole thing that could help other cities see the value in granting ownership to creative professionals.”

Ownership, he announces, has changed his way of thinking about his life and profession. He’s creating a mural garden out back of Saint Paint, and wants to turn the area into a semi-permanent event space. His plans include open mic nights, comedy shows, live music … and of course, more art events (Donnelly calls it “cross-pollination between the creative communities”).

For Donnelly, who was born and raised in Pinellas County and dedicated himself to art as a career 15 years ago, in his mid 20s, having his own place is a huge deal.

“I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen,” he says. “It was never for sure they were going to give us the opportunity to purchase. Really, my whole life’s just been kind of hanging there waiting to see what’s going to go wrong – if we were going to continue this or not.

“So it definitely did solidify my vision and gave me a new wind of inspiration for it, knowing that we’re going to be here forever. At least the rest of my days.”

Pinellas Art Village website

Saint Paint website

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