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Sugar Sand Festival turns Clearwater Beach into gallery of music-themed sculptures


He made Bob Marley rise up, and the Beatles were bobbling along in a sandy submarine behind him. Then sand sculptor Dean Arscott, 29, turned his attention to Lady Gaga for his music-themed sand sculptures at this year's Clearwater Beach Sugar Sand Festival.

Of the many looks of Gaga, Arscott finds inspiration in her long, platinum blond hair and very winged eyeliner, like when she wowed the 2016 Super Bowl singing the national anthem.

The eyes will be key. Using a cake decorating tool, he whisks long sweeping lines for eyelashes. He blows away the excess sand and brushes her cheekbones.

"I didn't know this was a job, but it's a fun one," said Arscott, a graduate of the Ringling College of Art and Design. He was recruited by Mark Mason, the Sarasota founder of Team Sandtastic, which makes sand sculptures for shopping centers, theme parks, festivals and over-the-top weddings.

Arscott is the youngest of the 10 Team Sandtastic sculptors who created art from 1,000 tons of soft sand for the Sugar Sand Festival, which wraps up this weekend. Last year's festival drew 30,000 visitors to the exhibit and even more to free activities on the beach, including concerts, fireworks, movies, a giant sandbox for children, speed sculpting demonstrations and free sculpting classes. Sunday brings a Latin-themed "Fiesta de la Playa," with music by the Orquesta Infinidad.

Adult and senior admission to the exhibit includes a 5- by 7-inch souvenir photograph. And each adult and child admission combo gets the child a free voucher to the nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Inside the walk-through display under a 21,000-square-foot tent, you can find Janis Joplin and Glenn Miller, the rockabilly legends of Sun Records and a sand symphony with a selfie spot to pretend you are the conductor.

Four of the sculptors will compete in a master sculptor competition. Visitors can vote by putting coins in buckets by their favorite sculpture, and the one that raises the most money — for Clearwater's Sandy Lane Elementary — wins the artist a $5,000 prize.

The artists work with surprisingly few tools.

"We really don't use anything too fancy," said Karen Fralich, a Canadian artist, "just shovels and trowels, maybe a melon baller or a cake knife."

Fralich created Janis Joplin's likeness, using a small trowel to make waves in her hair and smooth her round eyeglasses. She was discovered in a pottery class and has been creating sand art for 22 years.

The only thing added to the sand is "water and pressure," she said. The wet sand is compacted into wood forms, and huge blocks of sand were placed around the exhibit area and the artists carved from the top down.

Wet sand is heavy, so a big part of the creation means moving sand into place with a shovel.

"People think we just play all day," said Raymond Wirick, who was touching up the faces of the Andrews Sisters belting out a song with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. "But we put a lot of back into it."

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at Follow @SharonKWn.

>>If you go

Sugar Sand Festival

Admission to the main attraction, a walk-through display of nearly 1,000 tons of sand in music-themed sculptures, is $10, $7 seniors/military, $5 ages 6-17, 5 and younger free. It's open at 10 a.m. daily through Sunday at Pier 60, 10 Pier 60 Drive, Clearwater Beach.

Free activities include sculpting classes at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; "speed sculpting" demonstrations at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; movies on the beach at dusk Friday and Saturday; fireworks at 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; and beach-front concerts Friday-Sunday evenings.

Getting there:

Clearwater Beach is notoriously tough with parking and you can expect to pay $20 at some private lots. There is free parking in downtown Clearwater and at the Harborview Center. You can then take the Jolley Trolley ($2.25 per trip; $5 all day) or the Clearwater ferry at 42 Drew St. for a 10-minute ride to the beach marina ($2 each way). See schedules at and

More sand festivals

Gulfport's Fourth of July:

The daylong party along Beach Boulevard will include a family sand sculpting contest (10 a.m.-noon). It's free to enter and a patriotic theme is encouraged. Bring your own tools.

Siesta Key Sand

Sculpture Contest:

Celebrating its 44th year, the free amateur contest on May 7 has adult and children's categories. Call (941) 861-9930.

Sanding Ovations:

The annual party in Treasure Island returns Nov. 16-20 on the beach behind the Bilmar Beach Resort. It draws professional sand sculptors from all over the globe, and free concerts on the beach from local rock, country and blues bands.

Siesta Key Crystal Classic:

Featuring two dozen masters from around the world competing for $15,000 in prize money Nov. 11-15.

Sugar Sand Festival turns Clearwater Beach into gallery of music-themed sculptures 04/19/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 19, 2016 5:06pm]
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