BROOKSVILLE — When Paul Shaskan was appointed chairman of the 30th annual Art in the Park festival, he knew he had a tough job ahead.
The luster of Hernando County's oldest juried art show had long faded. So, too, had its relevance among art enthusiasts or artists.
Shaskan's job was to help bring it back. Having served 10 years as chairman of the Spring Hill Art League's annual Fall Harvest of Art, he promised members of the Hernando County Arts Council he was going to focus on areas his predecessors had not.
"The bottom line was that we needed to do more promotion," Shaskan said this week. "Without it, there was no way we could attract the crowds that I feel the festival should be bringing to Brooksville."
Because the budget for this year's festival, which runs Saturday and Sunday at Tom Varn Park, included almost no money for promotional advertising, Shaskan hoped the county's tourism development council would kick in some extra dollars. After being turned down, he lobbied county commissioners and, finally, County Administrator Len Sossamon, who suggested that he make a formal request before the commission.
Commissioners agreed to provide $2,500 from the TDC's reserve fund to help with promotional efforts. However, Shaskan said the gesture brought additional benefits, including a marked increase in entries from several regional artists who have never participated in the event.
"We have 96 exhibitors committed to coming, and I think that says a lot about how they feel about the festival's ability to draw people in," Shaskan said.
Members of the Arts Council would love nothing more than to return the art festival to its former glory days when weekend attendance regularly topped 20,000 and lured more than 150 artists from throughout the state who were happy to compete for $5,000 in prize money.
However, a souring economy coupled with growing competition from other events combined to deflate Art in the Park's status as a premiere art festival to one that struggles to attract 5,000 visitors for the weekend.
One of several board members who joined the 27-year-old organization recently, Shaskan said the group has emerged with a renewed focused on building credibility to its signature event and keeping it viable in the eyes of art lovers. And while he admits it may take a few years, he believes the Brooksville event is poised for a significant comeback.
"The show has always reflected how high the level of interest art has in this community," Shaskan said. "We think that spark still exists, and we're going to do all we can to make it the best art show it can be."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.