A good percentage of St. Petersburg artists have Jennifer Lovelady to thank for their continued success. Her enthusiasm for and financial support of local artists and arts organizations – going back many years – made it a no-brainer for the Arts Alliance to honor her with the 2019 MUSE Award as Arts Ambassador of the Year.
“I come from a family where you just do it, you don’t talk about it,” says Jennifer, who agreed to make an exception for this story; her spotlight-shy husband Jeff, a similarly passionate art aficionado and supporter, politely declined to be interviewed.
Along with their extensive personal collection, the Loveladys throw their support behind the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts, the Morean Arts Center, Creative Clay and other organizations.
Jennifer Lovelady’s grandfather was Claude Focardi, executive assistant to St. Louis beer magnate August Anheuser Busch Jr. In 1968, Focardi inherited a wholesale distributorship in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the St. Louis Cardinals – owned by Busch – came for spring training.
In 2018, Great Bay Distributors celebrated its 50th anniversary.
President and CEO Ron Petrini, Claude Focardi’s son, is Jennifer Lovelady’s father. She was 21 when she began working at Great Bay; after years as HR Director, she was named Director of Community and Cultural Affairs in 2016. Among her other duties, she handles employee programs, community involvement and Great Bay’s philanthropic and charitable activities.
From the start, the arts were an integral part of family life. Her father, and his father, both served on the board of the Museum of Fine Art.
“We were always exposed, my brother and I, to museums,” Lovelady explains. “My mom thought that was also an important part of education. And growing up in high school, my friends were artists and musicians. I didn’t know Jeff – we didn’t go to the same school – but we knew a lot of the same people. He’s a musician, and he’s artistic.”
She insists that she is not. “Anybody that can paint, draw, sculpt, anything, I’m in awe of,” she says, adding: “Because my brain does not think that way at all. The only think I’m artistic about is I love to cook. That’s my outlet, I guess.”
When she and Jeff got married, she says, “we kind of came with art. I had some pieces, and he had some pieces. We started collecting local artists, and when Fusion Gallery was on Central Avenue, Bask’s first show was there. We fell in love with a piece there, and my aunt actually got it for us, for our anniversary. And it just started snowballing from there.”
St. Pete artist Ales “Bask” Hostomsky’s work falls under the loose category “pop surrealism” – abstract street art. It’s the sort of quirky, left-of-center painting that makes you think (or makes you smile); the sort of painting to which Jennifer Lovelady is attracted.
Four years ago, as Great Bay was preparing to relocate its warehouse and offices to a grassy, 93-acre site near Gandy Boulevard, Lovelady had an epiphany. “Our old facility was all branded – it was all Anheuser-Busch, all beer-branded,” she said. “I went to my family and said ‘When we move to this new facility, I want to brand the family. I want to brand what’s important to us as a family.’”
That meant local art. She brought in designer and muralist Chad Mize as her consultant, and together they queried the other family members at Great Bay – Lovelady’s father, aunt and cousins – about what they’d like to see on the compound walls. They consulted with the employees, because they’re considered family, too.
Everybody loved the idea.
Once chosen, the artists were given free reign (as free as possible, that is, while bearing in mind they were creating for a working corporate office). Frank Strunk created a sculpture inspired by the mechanical inner workings of the massive beer warehouse; Leon “Tes One” Bedone created a series of paintings around his impressions of Great Bay’s rooftop solar-power array (it generates as much as 80 percent of the facility’s electricity). Bask designed a humorous 3-D mural, “99 Bottles of Beer,” for the spacious community room.
Other artists whose work is now displayed at Great Bay include Mize himself, Nathan Beard, Jules Cozine, Pale Horse, Ya La’Ford, Chris Parks and others. New works are still being commissioned today.
According to Lovelady, the Arts Alliance’s SHINE Mural Festival was brainstormed during an early artist cohort in the main hallway at Great Bay. Tes One, Mize and Bask were telling her about the germinating idea: “I said ‘That’s amazing. That’s what we need to do. We have the murals already, but let’s take it to the next level. Let’s see who we can get in here to make St. Pete even more fantastic than it already is.’”
Great Bay, along with Jeff and Jennifer Lovelady, have provided strong financial support for SHINE since the first year.
One of Lovelady’s proudest accomplishments is something only employees can see. It’s a long corridor inside Great Bay that everyone calls Main Street, the main artery from the parking lot into the heart of the building. At first, she says, “it was concrete floor, concrete wall, boring and horrible. It was Dead Man Walking.”
She engaged St. Pete muralists the Vitale Brothers –Johnny, Paul and Joey – to paint a mural from one end to the other. Colorful and in line with her pop-art predilections, it includes familiar images and scenes from all over Florida’s Central Gulf Coast.
“That was really fun, and it made it all worth it for me,” says Lovelady. “We’re a blue collar business. We sell beer. A lot of our people aren’t hitting museums on the weekend.
“The art started conversations. And while the Vitales were here working on the mural, the guys and girls would come in and just hang out. They would watch and talk to the artists. It really engaged the people that work here. And the Vitales have come back twice since to do other projects for us.”
The MUSE Awards will be handed out at a ceremony Feb. 8. Info is here.