In a city known for its innovation and love of the arts, it was only fitting that St. Petersburg takes an innovative and artistic approach when designing stations for its SunRunner bus line.
On Friday, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) unveiled its first completed SunRunner station. SunRunner is the first bus rapid transit line in the Tampa Bay region. The 10.3-mile line will connect St. Pete to the beaches on semi-dedicated lanes, and the teal busses with the iconic bright yellow smiling sun – designed by local artist Chad Mize – should stand out to pedestrians and motorists alike.
The City of St. Petersburg and PSTA took the novel approach of incorporating and integrating art into public transportation by also enlisting local artist Catherine Woods to create vibrant stained glass panels for each station. These panels represent the neighborhoods surrounding the stops and turn the stations into individual works of art.
“Given that our shelters, our stations are public spaces and community assets, we wanted to make sure that we partnered with someone who specializes in this type of public work that’s publicly accessible,” said Abhishek Dayal, Director of Project Management for SunRunner. “Catherine has done plenty of work that is in those same public spaces, so that’s what was very appealing to us …”
Woods, who also created a glass sculpture to christen the new St. Pete Police Department station, called the glass Sunrunner installations a “dream project.” In addition to PSTA, Woods said she worked closely with the surrounding communities to gather feedback on what the glass depicted. She was also in close contact with Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and Mayor Rick Kriseman.
“It’s nice getting input from the community when working on a project that’s going to be seen by the community,” Woods said.
The city unveiled the first station and corresponding artwork Friday, and Woods said she is creating 16 in total – one for each SunRunner station. Each station features two panels of glass prominently displayed behind the seating area, and each panel is about five feet by seven feet in size.
Woods said putting glass in the public realm is very specific, and using heat-strengthened and laminated glass is imperative.
“It’s like hurricane glass that has been treated with an art process,” explained Woods.
Woods stains the glass with a ceramic frit, which contains finely ground glass mixed with inorganic pigments to produce the desired color. The frit is heated to about 1,150 degrees Fahrenheit, producing a ceramic coating almost as hard as the underlying glass. Ceramic frit is durable and resists scratching, chipping, fading and even chemical attacks.
“The glass that I’m using is what they use in windows in high-rises,” said Woods.
Woods said she has been creating public art with glass for 20 years and has only had a problem with vandalism once. In that case, the developer had issues with his employees, and Woods believes they were the culprits, rather than people from the community.
“People seem to … appreciate when a city takes the time to beautify itself for the populace,” said Woods. “They seem to be pretty good about art.
“My artwork is still in place years later, and it seems to be appreciated and not messed with.”
Woods said she put a lot of thought into her designs. She used photos of the architecture, the area’s fauna, and any corresponding detail of the community surrounding each station when creating its glass art installation. Woods said she took hundreds of photographs of each neighborhood – well over a thousand in total. She also made line-drawing collages of the different buildings in an area, which she called somewhat abstract but easily identifiable for the community’s residents.
Woods relayed that those familiar with the area can pick out little secret details – which someone referred to as Easter eggs, much to Woods’ delight.
“I wanted each one to be like the welcoming front porch to the community of the neighborhood in which it sits,” stated Woods. “You don’t have to know the neighborhood to appreciate the artwork, but if you do know the neighborhood, it deepens your appreciation of the artwork.”
The project first began in the fall of 2019, and the recently unveiled installation at the corner of 5th Street and 1st Avenue in downtown St. Pete is the first to be completed. The remaining 15 works of art are in various stages of development, and Woods expects their installation by next spring.
“It’s a visually pleasing space for people to wait for a bus,” said Dayal. “We certainly would like to see the momentum going for other local bus stops with partnerships with local artists.”
Dayal said the cost for the art project and glass art panels on the 16 stations was $750,000, funded entirely by the City of St. Petersburg. Dayal made it a point to state his gratitude to Kriseman for shepherding the art scene in the city and specifically with the SunRunner project.
“I definitely wanted to thank the city and the mayor for their support for this project,” said Dayal. “And then, of course, Catherine, she’s been awesome to work with and just a great partner on this team.”
Woods said she wants those that see her art to feel joy. She enjoys working on public art as it brings the medium to those that may not otherwise be able to frequent galleries or museums.
“I think people appreciate the city and PSTA taking the initiative to make their spaces more enjoyable and beautiful to be in,}she said. “It just makes traveling a little more enjoyable.”