Tampa’s Gasparilla Festival of the Arts was not always the prestigious outdoor art festival we know it to be today. In a previous iteration, the highly accredited, avant garde (sometimes risqué) juried art exhibition sat between the cows, cactuses and corndogs of the Florida State Fair, stunning families and causing controversy among fairgoers.
Complaints led the art to be shunned to a private room. The exhibition eventually left, and the fair’s art exhibit became a mere display of high schoolers’ artwork.
Dreaming of a bustling city rich with culture, a group of downtown Tampa businesspeople concocted the idea of a sidewalk art festival in 1970, incorporating not only the informality of the previous exhibit but also the architecture of a growing city.
In 1971, their idea came to life as the Gasparilla Sidewalk Art Festival (nicknamed “The Little Art Show That Could”), now known as the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts. It offered $3,900 in prize money to the best artist and hosted Pierre Apraxine, then assistant curator of painting and sculpture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as a juror, whose reputation would put the festival on the map for years to come.
“The point of it is to bring fine art to the masses, and some of the greatest artists in the country exhibit in Tampa,” says Jennifer Malin, a member of the festival’s board of directors.
Since 1971, the festival has attracted hundreds of thousands of people from across the nation to see highly talented artists vie for the $15,000 Raymond James Best of Show Award and an additional $59,500 in prize money. The festival is all volunteer-run, and the proceeds all go back to the artists. Each year, the festival’s board and committee selects an image from a pool of artists’ submissions as the official image of the festival to appear on promotional items.
“Though it’s moved around a bit, gotten larger and is all volunteer-run, we have a well-oiled machine that keeps this festival alive,” says Patt Fosnaught, who has worked for the festival for the past 28 years.
The Gasparilla Festival of the Arts will celebrate its 50th anniversary on the grass of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park on February 29 and March 1, 2020, with juror Paul Galloway from New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
“It’s the major art extravaganza each year in Tampa, and it adds to our city’s celebration and appreciation of the arts,” says Fosnaught.