By Maggie Duffy
Times Arts Writer
TAMPA — Ahead of its big move next year, the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts returns to Curtis Hixon Park this weekend, showcasing the work of 235 of the nation's top fine art and fine craft artists.
Earlier this month, officials announced that for its 50th anniversary in 2020, the festival will change venues to Tampa's new Julian B. Lane Waterfront Park. The park is double the size of Curtis Hixon and Kiley Garden, 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.
But visitors can still expect fresh, new experiences when the show returns to Curtis Hixon Park and Kiley Garden Saturday and Sunday.
"We've especially focused on Kiley Garden," said John Scheffel, vice president of the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts board of directors. "With that being on an upper level, it's difficult sometimes to get visitors up to that area. So we added a lot of interactive experiences up there this year."
A gateway of balloons lining the stairs will certainly draw attention to the space. The interactive experience, inspired by the movie, Up, was created by the Tampa chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The experience also includes a Tiny Home that visitors can explore.
Another community-focused interactive experience is the Echo Quilt, a mobile structure in which people can record their personal stories, or listen to those of others, similar to NPR's StoryCorps project. And glass artist Duncan McClellan will give glassblowing demonstrations, another festival first.
Expanded live entertainment and music and a VIP experience will also enhance the show. Guests who enter VIP ($40-$50) receive catered food and beverages and a shaded place to hang out and enjoy the scenic views of the Hillsborough River and the park.
Even returning programs can provide new experiences for both visitors and artists. Now in its seventh year, Carmada, the "art car extravaganza," gives St. Petersburg artist, muralist and gallerist Chad Mize the chance to paint a car for the first time. He'll paint his intricate, doodle-style artwork in black on a solid white Scion XB during the festival
Mize worked with the car's owner to include his personal details in the doodle.
"I'm excited to be participating in Carmada and the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts for the first time," Mize said. "My last car was a Scion, so painting this car feels familiar."
The Emerging Artist Showcase features 15 artists who were mentored by Duncan McClellan. For Nneka Jones, the mentoring session provided valuable information about how to price her mixed media work. This will be the first time she's shown outside of exhibitions at the University of Tampa, where she's a junior majoring in fine art and minoring in marketing.
"I'm looking forward to the reaction of people to my art, because in terms of people seeing my art, it has mostly been my professors and my classmates," she said.
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Viewers will likely experience something new through Jones' artwork; she incorporates condoms into her paintings. The unusual use of materials was done to make her series on sexual abuse more impactful. She focuses on the crisis' unsung victims, including the elderly and men. Jones, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, says those issues aren't talked about enough. She also tackles colorism through her work
For for all the firsts this year, and for what changes the future may hold, the festival's primary focus will always be on the artists. Organizers pledge to keep the number of exhibiting artists the same at the larger venue. That makes for a more prestigious show, especially when there were around 900 applicants this year.
Lakeland-based ceramicist Beth Garcia was last year's Best of Show winner. She said the humbling experience of winning that award was surreal, especially given the high quality of the artwork in the show.
And for Garcia, something else sets the festival apart.
"There is not another show in the state that takes care of their artists as well as Gasparilla does," Garcia said. "I mean, they really, really do a lot. The show has a lovely vibe."
Contact Maggie Duffy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @maggiedalexis.