BY LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
When the Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts rolls around each year, the only thing you can never predict is rain. Everything else about it, you know, will be blue skies because it's so well-known for the quality of the exhibiting artists and its urban ambience.
Now in its second year at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in Tampa, along the Hillsborough River, the festival no longer resembles a street fair with booths rambling along downtown byways as it did for years.
It's a more concise experience — maybe not as charming atmospherically — with booths arranged regimentally in rows throughout the greensward. It's still one big show with about 300 artists and fine craftsmen represented.
It's difficult to assess the show's mix or the individual artists beforehand, but the roster on the Gasparilla website indicates a heavy presence in painting, especially if you include the separate categories of watercolor and mixed media, which often are essentially paintings, too.
There also are a good number of jewelers. Other media — drawings, prints, fiber and wood, for example — have a much smaller representation. And there will be food vendors, a children's hands-on area and entertainment. The Tampa Museum of Art and the Glazer Children's Museum are on the same site so there's more cultural context. (Plus alternative opportunities for diversion!)
The festival resembles a big bazaar that springs up overnight, then packs up its tents and disappears two days later.
Its temporary residents are worth meeting: painters, photographers, ceramicists, sculptors, weavers and jewelers who were chosen from about 1,200 applicants and will compete for your attention and spendable income, as well as the $74,500 in prize money.
Juror (the art name for judge) Trudi C. Van Dyke will decide who wins the $15,000 Raymond James Financial Best of Show Award (one of the largest in the Southeast) along with 36 other awards ranging from $7,500 to $1,000.
Van Dyke is an independent curator now who, among other positions, was director of the splendid Torpedo Factory Arts Center in Alexandria, Va. Her thumbs-up is big validation, but the great thing about art is that if you like it, nobody else's opinion matters.
You'll find much to like at the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.