The Morean Arts Center at 719 Central Avenue is home to many murals, and most of them are on the back of the building. Two of them are overhead, on a short connecting wall that flies between the Morean’s second story and the building just north of it, across the alley.
“Keep on Cruising,” by Derek Donnelly, is one of those overhead murals, a 22 by 22 feet square painting high above your head on the west side of the Morean. Out of a stormy purple night sky over St. Petersburg’s downtown, a woman in her 70s or 80s flies toward you on a skateboard, in a flaming pink T-shirt, blue jeans and Converse sneakers. Her skateboard is green, with hot pink wheels, and it’s careening towards you as if she’s about to fly out of the mural.
Her arms are spread wide for balance, and she’s riding down a sidewalk that’s deserted after dark. And clearly moving fast.
This mural is called Keep on Cruising – but is also known as Extreme Ethel. It’s inspired by the founder of the AARP, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. The Association for the Advancement of Retired People is focused on exploring new passions at any age.
Derek Donnelly is a mainstay of St. Petersburg’s mural scene. He grew up in St. Petersburg and works in the city with Public Art Project Inc., a non-profit that works directly with artists, business owners, organizations and local governments to create beauty in the community and educate people about the importance and economic impact of the arts.
To the right of Derek Donnelly’s Extreme Ethel mural, at street level, the west wall of the Morean is covered by an abstract landscape.
If you walk under Extreme Ethel and head east on the cobblestone alley, you’ll come to two other murals – Ya La’Ford’s Golden Wave and Sarah Sheppard’s Life Reimagined. On your way, you’ll pass under another one above your head, on the opposite side of Extreme Ethel. It’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a jaunty sun hat, with a fishing pole.