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Gasparilla Festival of the Arts grows in Tampa for 50th anniversary

The annual festival will change locations and add more activities and opportunities.
Meaghan Farrell Scalise's "Head First II" was chosen as the featured image for the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, which will return to Tampa this weekend. [Courtesy of Gasparilla Festival of the Arts]

On Leap Day this Saturday, the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts will make a symbolic move across Tampa’s Hillsborough River for its 50th anniversary.

Festival organizers announced the shift to Julian B. Lane Waterfront Park last year. At 25 acres, the new venue is double the size of Curtis Hixon Park and Kiley Garden, where the festival was held for years, allowing for more activities and concessions, better parking options, easier artist load-in and out and the ability to attract artists who need double booths.

Additional space won’t mean more artists, however. John Scheffel, who is new this year as president of the festival’s board of directors, said they keep the number of artists the same each year to maintain its prestige.

Scheffel also said they saw an increase in artists’ applications, which was surprising, because when a show changes venues some artists tend to stay away for the first year so the kinks can be worked out.

“I think it’s a testament to the good reputation we have with the artists, that they have a lot of faith in us,” he said.

Another benefit to the move is that the artists’ booths will be arranged perpendicular to the river, providing scenic views for attendees as they stroll through the festival.

The festival’s juror, Paul Galloway, is the collection specialist of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The prize monies have ballooned to $80,000 this year.

Among the exhibiting artists are 15 emerging artists chosen by juror Leslie Elsasser, curator of education at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum. They were mentored by glass artists and gallery owner Duncan McClellan.

Also new this year is the Local Artist Spotlight that showcases three artists who were selected to exhibit at the festival for free. The program was the brainchild of festival board member Mishou Sanchez and made possible with support from the Gobioff Foundation.

Sanchez proposed the program because, as an artist, she knows the plight of not being able to participate because of expensive booth fees.

Artists submitted their applications and the public voted via an online campaign. They received 36,000 votes. Karen Schremmer, Sanjib Malik and Alann Boatright were the winners.

A new installation of artist-embellished statues of goats comes to the festival with Project G.O.A.T. The Grady Goat Foundation’s fundraiser represents the Global Offensive Against Trafficking. The first 50 goats will be on display in celebration of the 50th anniversary, including ones by Sanchez, Bask and Bekky Beukes. Artist iBoms will live-paint a goat sculpture on Saturday.

Mishou Sanchez put a punk-rock spin on her goat sculpture for Project G.O.A.T., which will bring 50 sculptures to the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts this weekend. [Courtesy of Mishou Sanchez]

Returning to the festival are the Nomad Studio Art Bus, Duncan McClellan Gallery’s mobile Glassblowing Unit and Carmada, where you can watch as artists transform vehicles into works of art.

Live entertainment is emceed by ABC Action News chief meteorologist Denis Phillips and includes musical act Ella Jet and King Complex.

Because parking is always a challenge, the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts website features a parking and transportation section with a map of options, shuttles and water taxis. The festival has partnered with the Pirate Water Taxi to offer discounted rides, and there will also be a bike valet.

The change of venue includes using the park’s River Center to hold GalaRe, the festival gala that gives collectors first dibs on award-winning pieces of artwork. The event was previously held at the Tampa Museum of Art.

Both Scheffel and Sanchez said that there’s a buzz around the festival.

“The whole team has really kicked into high gear,” Sanchez said. “We’re at a new location, we have a new president, and everyone was super jazzed this year. As a collective under the guidance of (Scheffel), everybody’s done an amazing job.”

IF YOU GO

Gasparilla Festival of the Arts

Free; $50-$60 VIP. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Julian B. Lane Waterfront Park, 1001 N Boulevard, Tampa. gasparillaarts.com.

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