Jul 14, 2023 - Culture

Pinellas art group brings mini murals to north county communities

Michelle Wright, who uses the artist name Michelle Sasha, with one of her Palm Harbor palm trees. Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Wright

Tampa Bay loves its city and neighborhood pride. It's common in Tampa and St. Pete to see houses show off flags for neighborhoods like Historic Kenwood and Seminole Heights.

  • An artist in Dunedin has painted more than 1,000 oranges across the city, a nod to its citrusy history, and a local business is devoted to making small wooden replicas of neighborhood, city and business signs for home decor.

Driving the news: Now, thanks to a recently formed, all-female art collective in Pinellas County, residents in Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor and Tarpon Springs can get in on the trend.

  • Inspired by the Dunedin oranges, Palm Harbor's Michelle Wright created a little palm tree to represent her community, and she worked with other artists to design a sponge-diver helmet for Tarpon Springs and an anchor for Safety Harbor.

Flashback: Over the pandemic, Wright, 38, quit her insurance job to pursue a full-time art career and was looking for ways to get her name out there.

  • In August 2021, she posted her palm tree design in the 36,000-member Palm Harbor Happenings Facebook group, asking if anyone wanted her to paint one on their home at no cost. The only rule was that it had to be on the exterior of the house to achieve a visible sense of community.
  • Wright, who is better known by her artist name, Michelle Sasha, expected 10 or 20 people to sign up. Within an hour, there were 100, and in the next few days, another 200.

State of play: By the spring of 2022, she'd painted 500 trees across the community — all for free — and the requests were still coming in. Plus, she'd been picking up other painting jobs in the area, to the point where she was booking three to four months in advance. Wright needed help.

  • Enter Shiyenne Muentes and Meredith Solomon, both 18.
  • Muentes, looking for work, cold messaged Wright's sister to see if she wanted a mural on the Palm Harbor hair salon she owns. Wright's sister connected the two painters, much to the excitement of Muentes. "I was like, 'This is my calling,'" she said.
  • Solomon helped between clarinet rehearsals for the Tarpon Springs High marching band. And since graduating this year, she's thrown herself back into painting.
On left, a smiling woman poses with a painting of a bronze sponge-diver helmet. On right, a different smiling woman poses with a palm tree painting.
On left, Meredith Solomon with a painting of a Tarpon Springs sponge-diver helmet. On right, Shiyenne Muentes with a Palm Harbor palm tree.

The intrigue: Wright started handing off some of her projects to Muentes (artist name Shiyenne Alora) and Solomon (Edith S), and it got her thinking.

  • In a field that's tough to break into and even tougher to make a living in, she thought, why don't we work together and learn from each other?
  • "We can all make money, we're not competing, and we can all work on stuff that we really love," Wright told Axios. In January, ArtFluent Creatives was born.

The latest: The collective now has about a dozen artists, Wright said, six of whom work full time. The group is made of women and girls, which she said happened organically, and she's glad to add more female representation to the street art scene.

  • Muentes now handles the Palm Harbor palm trees, and Solomon is working on the sponge-diver helmets in Tarpon Springs, in honor of the city's sponge docks and Greek heritage. She's done 50-60 so far.
  • A third artist with the collective is starting a project in Safety Harbor painting anchors.

What she's saying: "We have such a tight-knit family group," Wright said. "I pinch myself every day."

Interested in a mural? Contact ArtFluent at [email protected]. The murals are free, but the group accepts donations.


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