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Art planner: How to get the most of Mainsail Art Festival in downtown St. Pete




First and foremost, Mainsail Art Festival is about art and fine crafts. Over 40 years, it has evolved from a small exhibition for local artists to one that attracts national interest and, on average, more than 100,000 visitors during its two-day run in Vinoy Park on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.

The artists are juried, meaning a panel meets every year to decide who will rise to the top from the hundreds of applicants. There's space only for 250.

If you're new to Mainsail, you'll find much to delight you. If you are a regular, you also love the charms of the long-standing. Many artists have been juried in for years and have become friends with annual attendees.




The festival is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday in Vinoy Park, 701 Bayshore Drive NE, St. Petersburg. Free admission. No pets or coolers. Street parking, most of it metered, is available but can be difficult to find on weekends. Consider using one of the paid parking garages or lots, then using a shuttle for pickup and dropoff. Free Mainsail trolleys will run both days. Go to for those details and for general information.




It's a big show and you probably won't be able to study all the art on view. And you might have favorite media on which you like to focus. Look for what you love. But here's a suggestion if you have the time: Choose work that seems unfamiliar to you and ask the artist why and how it's created. Talk to painters, for example, and you'll discover that a process that seems straightforward — putting paint on a brush and applying it to canvas — is explained differently by each artist using an individual technique and style. Painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, wood, glass, ceramics, fiber, metal and jewelry are represented with items ranging from the purely aesthetic to the beautifully functional so you have lots of conversational opportunities.




One of the most interesting artists at Mainsail this year is Marcus Thomas. Now in his 50s, Thomas has been paralyzed from the shoulders down since a skiing accident when he was 26. He had never had much interest in art, nor had his now wife, Anne. Thinking it might be therapeutic, she bought a children's set of watercolors, taped a paintbrush to a mouth stick and urged him to give painting a try. Whether he had an innate talent or a strong will to develop one, Thomas has become an accomplished artist, specializing in birds, still lifes and landscapes who exhibits at numerous art festivals each year.




Festivals don't live by art alone so you'll find other pleasures, the best being the location overlooking Tampa Bay and the proximity to the Beach Drive restaurants, shops and entertainment. Mainsail has its own entertainment lineup featuring live acts performing a variety of music from rock 'n' roll to hip-hop. On-site food options are a little reminiscent of fair food without the craziness: fun munchies, classics (dogs and burgers), salads, varied cuisines, beer and wine — you get the idea. For kids, the Junior League of St. Petersburg sets up its popular Kids Create tent with free arts and crafts. An adult must accompany the kids.

Mainsail offers two big feel-good elements. Cash prizes totaling $60,000 will be awarded to artists, including a $10,000 Best of Show prize that will be announced Sunday morning. And see the best our Pinellas County art students have to offer at the Young at Art exhibition. I hope I see some of them in future years at the festival as professionals with their own white tents.

Art planner: How to get the most of Mainsail Art Festival in downtown St. Pete 04/13/16 [Last modified: Thursday, April 14, 2016 8:47am]
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