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Blake alum returns as 'emerging artist' for Gasparilla Festival

Sarah Deming, a Blake High graduate, will be one of the featured emerging artists at the Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts. [Courtesy of Sara Deming]
Sarah Deming, a Blake High graduate, will be one of the featured emerging artists at the Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts. [Courtesy of Sara Deming]
Published Mar. 1, 2018

TAMPA — Sarah Deming will compete in the Emerging Artist competition this weekend at the 48th Annual Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts.

And it's all her dad's fault.

"He bugged me and bugged me and bugged me because he knows I am not terribly confident in putting my work out there," says Sarah, a Tampa native and 2009 graduate of Blake High School's magnet program for the arts.

Eventually, she gave in and applied to enter the Arts Emerging Artist competition, sending in three scans of her art.

On Jan. 24 — her birthday — she found out she was one of 15 artists chosen from more than 100 applicants to showcase her art at the two-day festival this weekend.

"I was shocked. This is one of the most prestigious art festivals in the country," she said.

She fell in love with art in middle school, concentrated on photography in high school and went on to graduate from the Maryland Institute of Art with a degree in art history, printmaking and curatorial studies.

Now 31, Sarah paints in her home studio, sells her art online, and occasionally has a showing at local shops.

"I see things differently since college," she says. "If you are an artist, you don't quit, you keep making works. Art is hard."

On her website, she says her work reflects "a deep bond with nature" as she attempts to "capture the movements, colors and shapes" of Florida's beaches where she grew up and spent so much time with her family.

Sarah's paintings are abstract and colorful interpretations of coastal themes; of the sea, beach and creatures that live on and in that environment. Ten percent of her art sales are donated to the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy.

Earlier this week, she and her husband rented a mini van, loaded it with "almost all my art," and drove nearly 16 hours from their Baltimore home to Tampa.

The free festival, which is expected to be attended by about 75,000 people, will be her first juried event and she admits she is nervous.

Her dad, Bob Elek, has no such doubts.

"When people see her work, it tends to sell," he says. "Art has been her passion from an early age. She has persevered and we are very proud of her."

Sarah will join other emerging artists for the event: Austin Lindsey (ceramics), Jeremy Rivera (digital), Laura Castro (digital), Blossom Schmitt (fiber), Emma Chandler (jewelry), Doribel Barbosa (painting), Emily Stehle (mixed media), Emiliano Settecasi (mixed media), Ronald Simmons (mixed media), Ben Galaday (sculpture), Ashley Lippincott (photography), Dyron Lafuente (sculpture), Arthur Falcone (wood), and Rosa Torres (painting).

Their works will be displayed in individual tents Saturday and Sunday at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park & Kiley Garden in downtown Tampa, along with works from more than 200 more established artists from throughout the country as well as local art students.

The artists will compete for $76,000 in awards, including a $15,000 best of show award. The best emerging artist will be awarded $1,500, while the best high school student artist will be awarded $1,000 plus $500 to the student's school.

The festival's award juror is Rene Paul Barilleaux, head of curatorial affairs at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas.

A "kids only" shopping area will feature low-priced art ($5-$10) with the proceeds donated to the Spring of Tampa Bay and NOMADstudio nonprofit groups. Each piece will be identified with the artist's name and tent location.

The festival will also feature a children's activity area, coordinated by the Tampa Museum of Art, where children can color, paint, draw and learn art techniques from participating artists. The area will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

In addition to viewing wide varieties of art, much of which is for sale, festival goers will be entertained by free performances by local vocalists and bands, emceed by radio and TV personality Nancy Alexander.

For more information and a daily schedule, visit

Contact Sheila Mullane Estrada at