Sunday, June 24, 2018
Features and More

Gasparilla art festival draws country's best to downtown Tampa

BY LENNIE BENNETT

Times Art Critic

The Gasparilla brand has grown a lot in recent years. It now includes a race, a music event and a film festival.

For decades it was just about pirates, parades and beads.

In 1970 the Gasparilla name also became associated with art.

The Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts on Saturday and Sunday isn't as old as the Gasparilla Pirate Fest, which began about a century ago. But now in its 42nd year, the art event has become a well-established tradition. Its $74,500 total prize money is one of the largest in the Southeastern United States, which means that it draws a lot of excellent artists hoping to win some of it, especially the $15,000 Best of Show.

For a long time, the festival was set up along downtown Tampa streets that were closed to vehicles during the weekend. Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park has become its home. It's a lovely location but has less space. So the number of invited artists has been trimmed from about 300 to 230 because the Tampa City Council no longer gives the Gasparilla committee permission to close part of adjacent Ashley Drive. (C'mon, council people, give them a break!)

You won't notice the reduction. It's still a big, bustling bazaar of a show that offers a full complement of traditional media: painting, photography, ceramics, jewelry, fiber, glass and wood.

The festival, like most outdoor shows, is also a great family outing. The park has a playground and a riverwalk. The Tampa Museum of Art sets up a free arts and crafts area for kids. Next door is the Glazer Children's Museum if more distractions are needed.

A charming feature that began three years ago is the Art Collectors in Training program. Gasparilla volunteer Brenda Gregory, an artist, started it to encourage art appreciation in children. Gasparilla participants are asked (not required) to donate one or more small, inexpensive works that are displayed in a tent. Kids browse the art (no parents allowed in) and may purchase one. Everything's priced at $5 or $10. They receive a map of the festival with "their" artist's booth highlighted so they can meet. All money raised is given to the Children's Cancer Center; last year, $2,700 was contributed. Gregory suggests you bring your kids early because they have always sold out of art. And they only accept cash or checks.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.

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