Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is an urban valley nestled between tall buildings and bordered by the Hillsborough River and usually a serene slice of green in downtown Tampa.
On Saturday and Sunday, the eight-acre plot will be transformed into the bustling bazaar known as the Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts. Like the medieval festivals of times past, people will come from near and far with tents to display and sell their wares, which, unlike the medieval fairs, won't include livestock. There will be plenty of pottery (formally called ceramics), jewelry, wood, metal works and fiber, just like the old days, as well as paintings, prints, glass and photography.
More than 1,000 artists vie for one of the 230 spaces at the festival because it offers some of the largest cash awards on the festival circuit, $74,500 total with $15,000 for Best in Show. That spurs high attendance, which averages about 100,000 a year according to the Gasparilla committee's estimates.
The festival offers a lot of varied experiences. For families with kids, the park has a playground and a river walk and the Tampa Museum of Art sets up a free arts and crafts area for kids. Next door is the Glazer Children's Museum. And really terrific is the Art Collectors in Training program. Gasparilla artists are asked (not required) to donate one or more small, inexpensive work that will be displayed in a tent. Kids browse the art (no parents allowed in) and may purchase one. Everything's priced at $5 or $10. They receive a map of the festival with "their" artist's booth highlighted so they can meet. All money raised is given to the Children's Cancer Center; last year, $3,200 was contributed. Bring your kids early, plus cash or a check, because they have always sold out of art.
For grown-up tastes, the festival hosts "GalaRE," an evening cocktail party at 8 p.m. at the Tampa Museum of Art next door. For $50, you get upscale bites by Capital Grille and live entertainment, plus first chance to see and buy art selected as the winners by this year's juror, George Kinghorn, director and curator of the University of Maine Museum of Art. For fun tastes, the festival adds to its roster of food vendors a fleet of food trucks plus on-going live entertainment.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.