Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Architect Brandon Hicks helps Gasparilla arts festival thrive

Architect and University of Florida grad Brandon Hicks has been involved with the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts since 2009, when he assisted a friend with site planning. Today he is president of the festival, which will draw about 100,000 people this year.


Architect and University of Florida grad Brandon Hicks has been involved with the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts since 2009, when he assisted a friend with site planning. Today he is president of the festival, which will draw about 100,000 people this year.

Art should push perceptions and challenge conventions, says Brandon Hicks, architect and president of the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, a Tampa outdoor art show older than he is. • "Everyone should have an opinion about art and architecture. That's the point," Hicks said, "to get people involved and engaged." • Controversial art, a.k.a. nudes, launched the festival when it got the boot from the Florida State Fair years ago. It turned into the Gasparilla Sidewalk Art Festival in 1970 and has been staged variously along Whiting, Ashley and Franklin streets until it landed at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in 2010. • Hicks, 40, oversees strategic planning for the prestigious juried festival, which is expected to draw 100,000 viewers Saturday and March 2. • Just one-quarter of 1,000 applicants are invited to display and sell their artwork, photography, sculpture, jewelry and fine crafts. • Hicks volunteered to help a friend with site planning in 2009. The next year he co-chaired that committee, then spent two years as festival co-chairman. He doesn't take the legacy lightly when he pursues partnerships to further a reputation for high-quality work, nationally prominent jurors and cash prizes totaling $75,000. • The University of Florida grad is influenced by the livability of Budapest, Prague and other capitals he visited during two semesters of study in Italy, where he met his wife, Sarah Joubert, also an architect and the festival's treasurer. Now Riverside Heights residents, the couple worked together for two years before she was lured to a large firm and he formed Twelfth Street Studio in the Channel District. Times reporter Amy Scherzer asked Hicks about the festival's longevity and the politics of art and architecture.

How has the art festival become successful and stayed solvent?

The majority of revenue comes from applications and booth fees from the 235 artists the selection jury chooses. Basically that's how many fit in the park, down from 300 when we were on downtown streets.

We learned a lot from the economic downturn. When demand for luxury items like artwork dropped, our applications dropped. We feel that those are the times when people really need art. We built up good reserves for that reason and built true multiyear partnerships. Raymond James has been our title sponsor for 16 years and pays the $15,000 Best of Show award.

Do you conduct annual assessments of the festival's economic impact?

We do exit interviews, but I'm not comfortable throwing it all out there. It approaches $1 million in art sales throughout the weekend. For instance, last year the Best of Show winner sold that sculpture for about $7,500, then he sold two or three more castings of it. With the $15,000 award, he left with about $30,000.

The American Marketing Association group at University of South Florida is doing a demographic survey for us during the festival. It will be a pretty extensive "heads in beds" survey to quantify impact. Like all of us, they're all volunteers.

So what's new and exciting about this year's show?

We've expanded community outreach, like popup art by local artists in Kiley Gardens in containers provided by PODS. We'd like to do a live painting of a car at Mitzi Gordon's (director of Creative Pinellas) Carmada exhibit. She drives around in vehicles with words painted on them, like bumper and hood and door.

The Brink Foundation is matching sales from the Art Collectors in Training booth for the Children's Cancer Center. All the artists donate one piece and kids from 6 to 14 can buy what they like for $5 to $25. We are providing space to MacDonald Training Center, and Hill Ward Henderson is matching whatever they sell.

Your first job was in New York with Rafael Viñoly on his proposal for the Tampa Museum of Art, until the city pulled the plug on that project. What did you learn from that experience?

Alfonso Architects hired me three days after graduation in 2002, and I immediately left to represent the firm. I lived in the eccentric Chelsea Hotel for three months, then a studio apartment in Hell's Kitchen for a year.

Viñoly is very charismatic, and his architecture makes big civic statements. He's a classically trained pianist, but he didn't have a driver's license. I would fly down to Tampa to meet with city officials and back the same day. We were approaching the beginning of construction, but it shifted to a new administration and it was very difficult to survive that. There was a whole different set of intentions and purposes.

It hurts to work 18 months on a project and not see it happen. It was completely different than what we have now, much larger and more expensive. I feel it would have made a huge impact on downtown. I still have a stack of Viñoly drawings.

What kind of art and architecture are you personally drawn to?

I appreciate art that is minimal and abstract in nature, something that is both clear and open to different interpretations. I appreciate clean modernism born out of the Bauhaus.

I appreciate propaganda posters and the political commentary they suggest.

Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.


44th annual Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts

When: Saturday and

March 2

Where: Curtis Hixon Park

Artwork for sale by more than 200 artists, including mixed media, painting, photography, sculpture, wood, ceramic, digital, fiber, glass and jewelry. Food vendors, live entertainment and children's activities. For more, visit

Architect Brandon Hicks helps Gasparilla arts festival thrive 02/20/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 21, 2014 12:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 10th resident from sweltering Hollywood nursing home dies

    Public Safety

    A 10th person from the Hollywood nursing home that turned into a deadly hothouse after the facility lost power following Hurricane Irma has died, Hollywood police said.

    The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills, 1200 N. 35th Ave. [EMILHY MICHOT | Miami Herald]
  2. Feeling mental fatigue after Hurricane Irma and other disasters? It's real.


    TAMPA — Blackness. Eyes closed or open, the same.

    A Tampa Bay Times reporter in a sensory deprivation tank used for floating therapy at Sacred Floats & Gems Co. located at 6719 N Nebraska Avenue, in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. Floating therapy relaxes people because they experience a sense of zero gravity when they are inside the tank, which contains 150 gallons of water and 1000 pounds of medical grade Epsom salt. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
  3. Trump vows more sanctions on North Korea


    President Donald Trump vowed Thursday to impose more sanctions on North Korea as he prepared to meet with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea to seek a common strategy in confronting the isolated nuclear-armed state.

    U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters on Sept. 19, 2017. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 in New York described as "the sound of a dog barking" Trump's threat to destroy his country. [Associated Press]
  4. Tampa chamber of commerce votes against tax increase on business property


    TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce on Thursday voted against supporting a city of Tampa plan to raise taxes on commercial properties in the city for 2018. The property tax, included in the city's proposed $974 million budget, would boost taxes from $5.73 to $6.33 for every $1,000 in property value.

    The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce voted against supporting a city tax hike on commercial property. Pictured is Bob Rohrlack, CEO of the chamber. | [Times file photo]
  5. How should St. Pete make up for dumping all that sewage? How about a street sweeper?


    Every crisis has a silver lining.

    In the case of St. Petersburg’s sewage crisis, which spawned state and federal investigations and delivered a state consent decree ordering the city to fix a dilapidated sewer system, the upside is figuring out how to satisfy the $810,000 civil penalty levied by the Florida …

    City Council chairwoman Darden Rice said it was important to chose carefully because residents will be paying attention.