It’s not your usual fairgrounds and it’s not your usual art experience. But if you make a visit to Fairgrounds St. Pete, it will be a day to remember as you immerse yourself in the quirky look at Florida created here.
It’s a multi-layered encounter with Florida ways and Florida life where the visitor can choose to take part in a mystery adventure or just absorb each piece of art individually, 15,000 square feet of immersive art under one roof.
“For us, the experience of Fairgrounds St. Pete is in the eye of the beholder. There is a loose narrative that ties the anchor spaces together, yet every single one of the artworks contributed by the 64 inaugural artists stands on its own with its own meaning,” said Managing Director Olivia Mansion.
“At Fairgrounds St. Pete our mission is to create inhabitable stories that empower everyone to discover and play inside whimsical worlds. We achieve this mission with technological innovation and artistic collaborations,” she added.
There’s a different trip for everyone here, depending on how you want to approach the experience. At Fairgrounds St. Pete how you see what you see is your call.
Your experience begins with your entrance as your eye is caught by the busy wall with the yellow background interspersed with blue and pink Florida images, the work of local muralist Chad Mize. Or you might wait to begin exploring until you have paid your admission and stepped inside.
The story on the ground starts at the Mermaid Star Motel, where your mystery adventure can begin – if you choose to go that route. Stand under the neon sign that draws would-be guests into the motel. Walk into the retro motel lobby and sign the register. Check into your room. Sit down on a lounge chair. Maybe even consider a picnic.
And then you learn — a young couple is missing, or are they? You can find out – or you forget about it and just move on. Your choice, although it is hard to resist the call to play.
“What distinguishes Fairgrounds St. Pete from a traditional museum is that the artwork completely surrounds you, engages all the senses and inspires interaction,” Mansion said. “In addition, Fairgrounds St. Pete brings a unique combination of celebrating a local art scene while adding layers of experiential innovation, using technology creatively to drive interactivity and immersive gaming,” she said.
You don’t have to be a gamer to have fun here. I had my picture taken with my son outside the Mermaid Hotel. I visited the Everglades Arena where I saw the glowing eyes of six animal species that make their home in the Everglades. I also got a taste of a panoramic Everglade sunset there as well. I viewed the dioramas in the Floridarama Room, where small custom dioramas pay tribute to specific glimpses of Florida in miniature.
Fairgrounds St. Pete was more than two years in the making. It began in 2019 when Liz Dimmitt and Mikhail Mansion were introduced. Liz joined forces with Olivia and Mikhail who together created OK! Transmit, an art and technology meet-up in St. Pete.
Today Liz is CEO and Mikhail is Chief Creative Technology Officer. Tyson Johnson handles financial management and logistics operations. The foursome convinced city leaders to buy into the plan, at a time when the pandemic was causing a slowdown in just about everything.
“However, we’re most grateful that we didn’t stop,” Mikhail said. “We were able to support and employ many artists and folks who were in the entertainment business who had been laid off during the pandemic. Not only that, but we opened during a time when everyone was ready to get out of the house and have an adventure.”
Doors opened in December 2021 and business has been booming since. The space will be expanding with exhibits changing over time, and she promises “new art and tech, quests, and experiences to see every time you visit.”
Fairgrounds St. Pete is in the heart of the Warehouse Arts District at 800 28th Street and is open Thursday through Sunday. Admission is $27/$25 with a discount for Florida residents, seniors 65 and over, college students, military and first responders; $22 for children 4-12. Parking is free.