TAMPA — Beautiful weather helped draw a huge crowd on the first day of the annual Gasparilla Festival of the Arts today.
The throng packed into Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, filling aisles between the more than 200 tents sent up for artists who came from all over the country to show and sell their work.
“We've had a spectacular turnout so far,” said Shaun Drinkard, a board member and past president of the festival.
Festival-goers, many with lemonade or beer in hand, spent the afternoon perusing the covered booths, which displayed everything from paintings and sculptures to lawn art and ceramic dishes.
“I'm an artist myself, so I came to just look and enjoy and be inspired,” said Tampa native Angela Dickerson, who comes to the festival almost every year.
The Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, now in its 44th year, brings about 250,000 people to downtown on the first weekend of every March. The festival continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is one of the largest events held at the park every year, Drinkard said.
This year's festival showcases the work of 235 artists. About 1,000 artists sought to appear at the festival and three local art experts spent weeks whittling down the list of hopeful applicants.
“We've definitely seen a big spike over the past few years,” Drinkard said of the participants.
Residents of the Tampa Bay area always have been good supporters of the arts, festival organizers said, especially now that the economy is recovering and more people are in a position to travel and buy art.
“I think that art reaches an extremely broad audience,” Drinkard said. “This is a really easy opportunity for the general public to come see it at no cost.”
And people are buying, said Robert Ross, who brought his urban themed paintings from Altamonte Springs.
Ross has been looking for ways to expand his client base, and he thought the art festival in downtown Tampa would be a good place to display his paintings of skyscrapers and unique architecture.
“I asked all my artist friends what are the best festivals to do, and they all recommended this one,” Ross said.
Melissa Finelli, who brings her jewelry to the festival from Boston every year, said not only do her customers include bay area residents, but also people who live in northern states and spend winters in Florida.
The turnout at the art festival has been good so far, and people are “definitely in a spending mood,” Finelli said
“And it helps that it's 80 degrees out,” she said.
To find out more about the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, go to www.gasparillaarts.com.