BROOKSVILLE — Larry Whidden always believed that art should be celebrated — really celebrated, like a huge party with food, music and drinks all around.
That's what prompted Whidden, a sculptor who lives in Pasco County south of Masaryktown, to start an art festival. He picked a weekend in late May and contacted his artist friends to show up at Kennedy Park in Masaryktown. The idea was to sell art during the day and then head over to Whidden's 6.5-acre Casa De Angela artist colony to party.
"It was what we called a 'wind down' party for artists who were about to head north for the summer season," Whidden recalls. "It wasn't supposed to be that big of a deal."
He was wrong. The Masaryktown Arts and Crafts Festival became a very big deal. By its fifth year, the festival, which featured live music, food vendors and upward of 130 artists and craftmakers, was drawing an estimated 20,000 visitors during the weekend, Whidden said.
Twenty-five years later, Whidden, who is 68, looks back with fondness on the festival, which in 2001 moved to Tom Varn Park in Brooksville. Now known as Art in the Park, and hosted by the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, he laments that the event is now much more formal than the ones he and his friends used to stage.
"It's nice, but the flavor is lot different," said Whidden, who helped found the Fine Arts Council. "Their vision is different than mine, but it works for them. That's all that's important."
This year's Art in the Park, which will be Saturday and Sunday at Tom Varn Park, will host about 80 local and Florida artists. Like everyone, event organizers are battling the sluggish economy as best they can, said festival coordinator Sherry Tarrio.
"Finding sponsors has been a challenge," Tarrio said. "Overall, we've done pretty well attracting artists, and we've got them coming from all over Florida."
The juried art show will offer $3,700 in prize money in several categories, and will have special exhibits for school-age children.
As always, the festival will feature live music throughout the day, including performances by the West Hernando Middle School chorus, Lindsay Taylor, the Acoustic Guitar Club of Spring Hill, a Stage West theater group, Papa Kurt and Friends, Dixie Blue, and Orlando classical group Nova Era.
A Kids Creation Station will provide art-making activities for children.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.