TAMPA — Gasparilla Festival of the Arts president Adam Raschke checks off a list of the outdoor exhibition's offerings this weekend.
• More than 100,000 people eyeing and buying artwork.
• Wide range of media displayed.
• Outstanding caliber of exhibitors, 235 out of 700 applicants.
• Cash prizes exceeding $75,000, including $15,000 Raymond James Financial Best of Show award.
• Juror Mark Ormond, who brings more than 25 years experience as curator, author, lecturer and consultant.
• Live music, food trucks and non-stop children's activities.
So what might the 47th annual festival lack?
"We upped the number of emerging artist stipends to 15 last year," Raschke said, "and historically, we rate excellent with established artists.
"But I always felt we had a gap in the mid-teen level of participation. And I thought we could improve our geographic exposure."
With that in mind, Raschke launched two new programs aimed at children in the 5 to 18 age range.
High school students from six area counties compete in the inaugural Scholastic Showcase juried competition. Arts educators were informed of the criteria and invited to submit four or five works per district.
Like the adult entries, students may use paint, glass, ceramics, jewelry, photography, sculpture, fiber, wood or mixed media. All of the student entries, while not for sale, will be on display at Kiley Garden, 400 N. Ashley Drive downtown.
Now here's the kicker: One piece will be awarded $1,000 and that artist's school will receive a $500 donation for its visual arts program.
The inaugural K-8 T-Shirt Art Contest, guided by board member Jessica Raia Long, a culinary arts teacher at Barrington Middle School, was open to Hillsborough County elementary and middle schools. The winning work will be printed on children's T-shirts available for purchase during the Festival.
Also new this year for the junior set, a scavenger hunt, designed by Tampa Museum of Art community engagement manager Kessanda Abel.
"Families explore the Festival through dancing, creating artwork and visiting the museum," Abel said. When they complete all the activities, they can turn the card in for a coin which they can keep or exchange for a poster. Abel coordinates two full days of children's art experiences in Kiley Garden.
"By including more children in a significant manner, we hope they will see at an early age that becoming an artist is attainable and rewarding," Raschke said.
A news conference this week marked the official collaboration of Gasparilla-branded festivals when city, county and event officials designated March as "Gasparilla Arts Month," connecting the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, Gasparilla International Film Festival (March 2-9) and Gasparilla Music Festival (March 11-12) into a meaningful effort.
"We moved beyond the parades to look more holistically at the entire cultural offerings of the community in the February to April time window," said Patrick Harrison, Visit Tampa Bay chief marketing officer. "The Gasparilla season of events provide experiences for visitors and lets them see a side of Tampa Bay's interest in and commitment to the arts."
Hillsborough county hotel occupancy averaged 95 percent during Gasparilla Festival of the Arts weekends in 2015 and 2016, according to Harrison — an indicator of the size of the festival's following.
"Those are huge numbers and show the importance of arts, culture and having sunshine when others do not."