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  1. Visual Arts

Nude paintings are part of Gasparilla Festival of the Arts history

Teresa Testa, ceramics.
Teresa Testa, ceramics.
Published Feb. 24, 2015

We can thank, in part, a painting of a nude woman for the Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts as we know it today, celebrating its 45th year on Saturday and Sunday in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

Decades ago, a juried art exhibit was part of the Florida State Fair held in Tampa. It wasn't called Gasparilla back then, but it was scheduled in conjunction with Tampa's Gasparilla pirate invasion. In 1969, complaints were made to the fair organizers about nude paintings in the show. There was the inevitable bristling on both sides of the censorship issue, which, along with the fair's move to a location outside the city, resulted in a conscious uncoupling between the art show and the fair.

A plucky band of arts supporters wanted the annual art show to continue and, in 1971, the Gasparilla Sidewalk Art Festival debuted on Whiting Street in downtown Tampa on a February weekend. At that time, the downtown was basically one big office complex with few recreational or entertainment amenities. Of course, the show was a hit.

And the hits have kept on coming. After a few nomadic years, the festival has settled into Curtis Hixon Park, where 300 artists will set up tents to showcase their works in many media and compete for $75,000 in prize money. About 100,000 people are expected to attend the two-day festival. Lots of different food and beverage choices will be available along with live music.

The two elements that haven't changed through the years are its all-volunteer group of organizers and helpers and its free admission. Popular additional programs include:

• The Chalk Walk next to the Tampa Museum of Art with 10 commissioned artists working their illusionary magic

• Children's art activity area organized by the Tampa Museum of Art

• The Art Collectors in Training Program for kids 6 to 14 who can purchase small works of original art priced between $5 and $10. Funds raised go to a children's not-for-profit organization.

Perhaps it all would have happened as it has without the offending naked female on a canvas. Still, cherchez la femme.

Contact Lennie Bennett at lbennett@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8293.