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Gasparilla Festival of the Arts returns to Tampa. Here’s what to know

The 53rd annual festival takes place March 4-5 at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.
 
An estimated tens of thousands of people attended the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa in 2016. This year's festival takes place at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park in Tampa March 4-5.
An estimated tens of thousands of people attended the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa in 2016. This year's festival takes place at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park in Tampa March 4-5. [ LUIS SANTANA | TIMES FILES ]
Published March 1, 2023

If you’re looking for something to do that combines culture and the outdoors, the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts is the hot ticket this weekend.

The acclaimed art festival that draws award-winning artists from throughout the country is happening March 4-5 at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park along the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa.

Now in its 53rd year, the festival is popular with artists in part for its sizable prize money and with patrons for its outstanding caliber. The large festival features works in ceramics, digital, drawing, fiber, glass, jewelry, mixed media, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, watercolor and wood.

A featured artwork is selected each year to appear on festival merchandise. This year, it’s “Sunny” by Tarpon Springs-based artist Michelle Mardis.

Tarpon Springs-based artist Michelle Mardis' piece "Sunny" is the featured artwork of the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, which takes place in Tampa March 4-5.
Tarpon Springs-based artist Michelle Mardis' piece "Sunny" is the featured artwork of the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, which takes place in Tampa March 4-5. [ Courtesy of Gasparilla Festival of the Arts ]

Here’s what to know.

It’s free to attend.

Most outdoor art festivals are free to attend, but don’t take that for granted. Viewing artworks and live entertainment in a picturesque setting is definitely worth paying for, but it’s a perk that you won’t have to. However, you can purchase VIP tickets for an elevated experience.

There’s also live entertainment.

The festival is emceed by Denis Phillips, the popular chief meteorologist for ABC Action News, who will introduce the live entertainment. That includes Yoga with Lucky Cat on Saturday and Sunday, Saturday music headliner Mandy Harvey and Sunday headliners The Applebutter Express.

You can enjoy interactive experiences.

Chad Mize creates doodle art on a car for Carmada at the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in 2019.
Chad Mize creates doodle art on a car for Carmada at the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in 2019. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2019) ]

See how art gets made with several interactive experiences including glass artist Duncan McClellan’s Mobile Glassblowing Unit. Watch artists transform vehicles at Carmada and be inspired to paint on a model car or the NOMAD Art Bus. Take a selfie at an interactive structural element created by the Center for Architecture & Design, and the American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay and affiliated organizations.

There is also an area designated for children’s activities and a cool Art Collectors in Training program that lets young people shop artist-made creations in a “Kids Only” area, with most items ranging $5 to $10.

Another interactive element is the Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts Chalk Walk, where you can watch artists transform the walkway in sometimes mind-bending ways.

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There is so much art to see.

Tampa-based artist Nneka Jones won the Best of Show award at the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in 2022. She is pictured here with her winning mixed media piece, "Modern Renaissance."
Tampa-based artist Nneka Jones won the Best of Show award at the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in 2022. She is pictured here with her winning mixed media piece, "Modern Renaissance." [ Courtesy of Nneka Jones ]

Local and emerging artists are showcased at the festival, and the Through the Emerging Artists Program features up-and-comers. One success story from the program is Nneka Jones, who started out in the program in 2019 and went on to win Best of Show in the entire festival last year.

The Local Artists Program invites five artists to participate in the festival, getting exposure from the tens of thousands of attendees. The Remote Studio program sees five artists create work during the course of the festival, allowing guests the opportunity to purchase fresh work.

The Young Artists Expo features work from Tampa Bay high school students and Hillsborough County elementary and middle schoolers.

Parking information

There is free street parking adjacent to the park, but in the highly likely event that those spots will be taken first, you have more options. If you’re up for a brief walk, there is street parking on Doyle Carlton Drive, at the Barrymore Hotel and in the Royal Street Regional Lot. There are free shuttles to the festival from the Poe Garage and the Rivergate Tower Garage, and there’s a water taxi stop near the Fort Brooke Garage.

If you go

Gasparilla Festival of the Arts. Free. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, 1001 N Boulevard. gasparillaarts.com.