In its 40-year history, the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts has moved eight times around downtown Tampa. Now that Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park has been renovated, it returns there, where it all began, Saturday and Sunday. Hopefully it will stay put for years to come. The park is the perfect setting for this free festival: a huge swath of grass, a promenade along the Hillsborough River, a dog park, kids' playground and, next door, the new Tampa Museum of Art.
What hasn't changed over the decades is its reputation for quality. Now called the Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, it attracts more than 1,200 aspirants from across the country who are winnowed down to a group of 300 exhibitors.
You'll find all the traditional mediums represented — no video or performance art, of course, though there will be live musical performances throughout the weekend.
Two reasons the festival attracts a top-tier roster of artists: Sales are traditionally very good and it offers an exceptionally large amount of prize money, $75,000 in all with the Best of Show winner receiving $15,000. This year's juror is Jack Becker, president of the Museum of Art at Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art in Nashville.
One of the highlights for families is the Young Artist Showcase. An exhibit for kids 5 to 12 will be stocked with art donated by festival artists that they can buy for $5 or $10. (Remember, this is not investment art; it's fun.) The young collector will get the artist's booth number so she can visit the artist. Funds raised will be donated to the Children's Cancer Center.
Another great innovation is the festival's environmental commitment. This year, solar power will fuel the stage generators and volunteer golf carts. Plastic water bottles will be replaced with filtered water stations. Food vendors have been asked, if possible, to use biodegradable foodware. And a recycling program begun in 2009 continues.
All in all, there will be a lot of creativity at the Gasparilla Festival this year both inside and outside the frame.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.