About the Festival

Fast Facts

Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, Inc.(GFA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation dedicated to producing an annual, premier juried outdoor art festival (the “Festival”) for the enjoyment and education of patrons, artists and guests as well as for the enhancement of the Tampa Bay area’s cultural arts. The organization relies on financial support from sponsorships, community grants, on-site retail sales, and corporate and individual gifts. GFA’s programs and events are organized and staffed entirely by volunteers.

Event Details

54th Annual Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts

Saturday, March 2, 2024,
9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Sunday, March 3, 2024,
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park
Downtown Tampa

Admission

FREE!

Estimated Attendance

30,000

Prize Money

More than $92,000

A Festival Rich in Culture, and in History

Humble beginnings between the cactus and the cows.

Each February in Tampa, there was a juried art exhibit at the Florida State Fair, held in conjunction with the city’s Gasparilla pirate invasion. Highly accredited artists and art administrators from New York were invited to jury the show and eminent architect Mark Hampton designed the exhibition space – situated near the horticulture exhibit and livestock barns.

Countless families soon stumbled upon some very avant-garde art and controversy often ensued. In 1969, several complaints about paintings of nudes caused officials to scramble and relocate the works to a private room. Some members of the fair board wanted to have the exhibit dismantled altogether. When the fair moved out of downtown, the art exhibit changed into a display of high school student art work.

A new home on the downtown sidewalks.

Art activists realized that the informality of the State Fair exhibit had brought diverse, high-quality artwork to many people who normally never ventured into museums – and they wanted that to continue. In 1970, a group of downtown business people conceived the notion of a sidewalk art festival.

Amid a sleepy downtown Tampa – then a sterile environment of parking lots and anonymous business buildings – Robert John Dean and Richard Redman had just completed the renovation of several old brick buildings on Whiting Street between Ashley Drive and Franklin Street.

Across the street was WDAE radio station, managed by Donald Clark, a businessman with a sense of community and familiarity with the concept of outdoor art shows. Don took the outdoor show idea to Jim Turner of Tampa Electric Company. Turner connected Clark with Dean and Redman, who were joined by Lester Olson, Frank Franklin and Fred Matthews.

Along with a number of community leaders and art enthusiasts, including Lois Nixon, Ann Ross and Jeanne Winter, these visionaries dreamed of a rejuvenated city, bustling with people and culture.

Early success sets the stage

The festival succeeded beyond expectations and became known as “The Little Art Show That Could.” In 1973, it was the recipient of the First Annual Governor’s Award for the Arts, singled out for its melding of business and arts interests. The groundwork was laid for what was to become one of the most prestigious outdoor art festivals in the country.

If the relaxed atmosphere of the Gasparilla Sidewalk Art Festival made this venture a popular success, the factors that made it a critical success were distinguished jurors and substantial cash purses.

To jury the first show in 1971, GSAF organizers invited Pierre Apraxine, then assistant curator of painting and sculpture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Mr. Apraxine’s reputation was a crucial element in the growth of the festival’s caliber. One year’s eminent juror would often suggest another credentialed colleague to judge the following year’s competition.

A growing reputation

Word about GSAF’s high quality spread through art circles. Jurors have included Robert Hughes, author/director of Shock of the New book and TV program, Janet Kardon of the American Craft Museum in New York, art historian Barbara Rose and William J. Cowart, curator of 20th Century Art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. For the 1999 Festival, the Board of Directors decided to invite two jurors of national prominence instead of one. This idea proved successful and the tradition of excellence continues.

The opportunity to have one’s work evaluated by an eminent juror was in itself an attraction to many artists. Much of the initial supportiveness came from artists in the university faculties. Bruce Marsh, professor of art at the University of South Florida, was Best of Show winner for the first two years. He said the wins were important to him, not only because the prize money represented a not-inconsiderable percentage of his annual salary at the time, but also because the awards brought him recognition.

A 1987 winner, Brad Cooper, had recently received his master’s degree in fine arts when he won Best of Show, and he used the prize money as a down payment on an art gallery in Ybor City – creating another fine venue for art. But the real value to Cooper lay in the fact that juror Vivien Raynor, an art critic for The New York Times, reviewed his work and found it worthy. It was a huge psychological boost.

Tales of artists and jurors

Some artists found the experience of standing next to their work and listening to the candid reaction from the crowds unnerving: “It was like standing there without your clothes on,” said Daisy Koenig, a well-known artist who was active in both the State Fair shows and several Gasparilla Festivals. Other exhibitors loved to schmooze with the crowds.

The jurors were treated royally by the show’s organizers, who went to great lengths to provide perks. One couple donated their Gulf of Mexico condominium for jurors to vacation in while judging the show, while other couples prepared gourmet dinners.

Most jurors proved to be natural, responsive, unimposing folk, although there are some moments the founders recall with amusement. One woman juror suddenly announced that her genuine pearl necklace had disappeared. Everyone went on a frantic search for the missing item. The juror eventually found it herself – in her cleavage, where it had slipped without her noticing.

Another juror announced that she had to be alone with all the works she had selected for final judging. The committee retreated to another floor. After more than an hour, one of the organizers had to retrieve something from the judging room and tiptoed in so as not to disturb her mediation. He found the juror fast asleep.

An ever-evolving event

Many changes have occurred over the years of the festival. The prize money has grown from its original $3,900 total to $74,500. Categories of submission have expanded to include fine crafts. The time of year was changed from the sometimes blustery February to the first weekend of March.

In 1995, the logo and the name were changed to reflect new goals and expand the focus to include other cultural entities in the community such as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library. The addition of an Emerging Artist program also expanded the interest in the Festival. Applications have likewise risen from the initial 140 (all who showed up were accepted) to more than 1,000.

Another change has been in the acceptance of entrants from outside the state and now the show attracts international artists. The festival has moved a few times from its beginnings on Whiting Street to Doyle Carlton Drive, behind the Tampa Museum of Art and the Curtis Hixon Convention Center. In 1994, Curtis Hixon was razed and the show moved to Ashley Street. In 1995, it expanded into the newly constructed Curtis Hixon Park on the Hillsborough River. In 2003, the festival moved to Franklin Street and Lykes Gaslight Square Park in anticipation of construction of the new Tampa Museum of Art. Joyfully, in March 2010 the festival moved back to the river. The newly built and breathtaking Tampa Museum of Art opened its doors, and at its front door is the Raymond James Gaparilla Festival of the Arts in a newly named and designed Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

A legacy of timeless support

Some of the things that haven’t changed are the strong and continued support of The Tampa Museum of Art and the City of Tampa. Since its inception, Tampa Museum volunteers (now known as Friends of the Arts) have been given the right to organize the refreshment concessions. The festival has always been run by a completely volunteer board of directors and festival committee who spend many years, months and hours working to make the festival better every year. Lively entertainment has always been an integral part of the festival and for the last few years Tampa Bay-area school systems have provided young performers in addition to professionals.

The history is rich. The traditions are timeless. And the festival is now a vital cultural asset with a well-established presence and an eye on the future.

Ajeva

Ajeva is a funk/rock band from St. Petersburg, FL. The band started in 2013 and features Reed Skahill (vocals), Taylor Gilchrist (bass), Mike Nivens (guitar), and Lyndon Thacker (keys). They’ve carved out a sound of their own with epic melodies and distinctive vocals that pair perfectly with their deep grooves. Each Ajeva show is a one of a kind experience with the band taking their songs to different places and new heights every night.

Light the Wire

Light the Wire makes heartfelt, indie-folk rock that with powerful vocal harmonies, thoughtful lyrics, and powered by driving bass and drums.  The quintet is based out of Tampa, FL, and released its self-produced, debut EP – “Someday Is Coming” on all streaming platforms on November 1, 2023.

Giorgi

Rock musician that refuses to find a niche

GA & FL

FFO: Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World

Mwiza

Biggest influences are church, his mother, Coheed & Cambria, Acceptance, James Morrison, Bombay Bicycle Club, Disturbed, Arctic Monkeys, Young The Giant, Chevelle, Rusko, Chief and Matt Corby. Most of the music he listens to has a darker sound to it so he in turn makes darker, melodic music.

Datagram

Datagram has been the moniker of shapeshifting Tampa musician Scott Olson for the better part of the last decade.

In that time, the sound and styles of this project have shifted and morphed, painting with shades of glitch, downtempo, techno, and all that lurks in between.

Shevonne and the Force

A multi-hyphenate, genre-bending artist, Shevonne Philidor is a singer-songwriter, producer, and actress who epitomizes her dynamic background in music and performing arts. A military brat born in Philadelphia, PA, she experienced living in multiple cities – including a stint in Italy – before landing in Tampa, Fl, where she nurtured her musical ability throughout her childhood. She’s a scion of a musical family stemming from her half-Haitian descent and taught herself to play the guitar at an early age, inspired by the likes of Prince, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Lauryn Hill, Bob Marley, and M83. In 2003, she made her first TV debut on America’s Most Talented Kids, and in 2010, she made an appearance on America’s Got Talent Wild Card. A recipient of the prestigious NFAA scholarship, she also made American Idol’s top 40 twice in 2016 and 2019, the same year she performed at Austin City Limits with five-time Grammy award-winning artist Gary Clark jr. In 2021, she performed alongside CeeLo Green at a Superbowl party for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was tapped to sing for ABC’s Juneteenth celebration with T.I. and Domani. Working with Grand Hustle Records, she’s a Luna Guitar-endorsed artist who was also selected to perform in Just Blaze’s SXSW showcase in 2022. A theatre kid at heart, she’s flexed her acting skills on a national tour for Todrick Hall’s musical, Oz The Musical, and she was also recently casted in Life’s Rewards, an upcoming Amazon Prime TV show.

Kristopher James

Though he’s lived in the Sunshine State, for most of his life, Kristopher’s talent for melody and song (now) extend far past the state’s line. Like his influencers Otis Redding, Amos Lee, and Roberta Flack, Kristopher’s voice is clear, controlled, and full of all-the-feels.  As with all artists, Kristopher’s sound has ebbed and flowed, evolving yet remaining instantly recognizable. With the growth he’s experienced as an artist, Kristopher felt it was time to capture his songs, in their fully-imagined sound!

With his debut album “Kindness Never Quits”, featuring members of Scary Pockets, Kristopher caught the attention of Relix & Glide Magazine, Spotify Playlist curators and continued praise, such as “vocals are so powerful and as the song progresses, he showcases why he is one of the best singers out there. All that soul in one artist is just unbelievable” from Reignland Magazine.

Continuing through the COVID years, Kristopher partnered with musicians to keep the music and community alive. Along with composer and keys player Mike Hicks of Rascal Flatts, The War & Treaty’s Max Brown on guitar, as well as talented artists Kyshona Armstrong, Jonathan Huber, DeMarco Johnson, Kristopher released 3 acclaimed singles: “Never Had to Find Our Way”, “Feelings” and “I Can Only Love You in a Song”

Deaf Company

Three piece Rock n Roll band hailing from St. Petersburg, FL.

Skyler Golden

Musician from St. Pete Florida and Studio Producer for Zen Recording. Brings an eclectic sound of string instruments for the Yoga Classes at GFA 2024

SydLive

From Tampa Florida, SydLive was born to write and sing songs that touch the world. As her mother recalls, her climb to stardom began with getting on top of restaurant tables to sing at the age of two.

By the time she was eleven, she acquired her first guitar and began to teach herself to play by learning Beatles songs. Within four years she found her way to the stage singing in a Carpenters tribute band. Since this time, Syd has amassed over a decade of experience as a professional singer/songwriter and recording/performance artist. Within the industry, she names Aretha Franklin as her idol.

DURRY

The first sound you hear on Durry’s rambunctious and poignant debut album, Suburban Legend, is an old-school Internet dial-up tone. To songwriter Austin Durry, the sound is instantly familiar but his bandmate and sister, Taryn, hadn’t heard it before. The Burnsville, Minnesota-based duo might identify with different age groups — with seven years between them, Austin is a millennial and Taryn is Gen Z — but by joining forces in Durry, they show just how much the neighboring generations have in common.

Between their serendipitous origin story and a crop of dynamic, hook-heavy alt-pop tracks, Durry are doing something few bands can achieve — and they’re doing it entirely on their own terms. As a band, Taryn and Austin’s journey happened both unexpectedly and fortuitously. At the start of the COVID pandemic, Austin and his wife moved back into his parents’ house, where Taryn was also living at the time. In addition to moving back in with his family, COVID forced Austin to cancel an extensive tour with his previous band, Coyote Kid. Faced with nothing but time, he got back to songwriting, regularly asking Taryn for input — or as the two playfully put it, “Gen Z quality control.”

“I’d say, here’s an early concept, what do you think? Then she’ll steer the ship, and then I’ll evolve it from there,” Austin explains. “Taryn is the sounding board and Gen Z vision of the band, where I’m kinda cranking stuff out.”

As they got going, forming what would turn into Durry, the siblings also outlined DIY ideas for branding and promotion, creating all of their own content and imbuing their visuals with nostalgic golden yellow, large fonts, and tactile images that would later make their way into eye-catching merch.

The immediate result of their musical partnership was the pop-punk/alternative anthem “Who’s Laughing Now,” which leads with wry, tongue-in-cheek lyrics about the futility of young adulthood in 2023: “My mama always said I would regret it if I ever got a tattoo,” Austin chants, adding: “She said I’d never get a job like I ever wanted one with that attitude/ My dad said I had to learn to drive a stick shift, but every van I ever had was an automatic/ My friends said that someday I would make it big, but I’m still living in the basement.”

After posting an unfinished version of “Who’s Laughing Now” on TikTok, it swiftly took off, galvanizing thousands of viewers who shared their coming-of-age frustrations. Clearly, the song’s sentiments — which land somewhere between a shrug and a clenched fist — resonated with millions of listeners, and today the song has garnered more than four million Spotify streams. Meanwhile, Durry have recorded a fully fleshed-out version of “Who’s Laughing Now,” which is set to appear on their riveting, perfectly sardonic debut LP, Suburban Legend.