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Four Decades of Fine Art

By Lilia Del Bosque Oakey Whitehouse

With the symphony, opera, ballet, children’s chorus, and the Little Theater, Pensacola has an obvious love of the arts. It is this dedication to the arts that inspired the very first Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival.

“Pensacola has so much in the way of culture,” said Jim Longsworth, chairman for the 2013 Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival. “This was just another thing to promote the arts in Pensacola. It started off small and now it’s the best arts festival miles around.”

The festival, now in its 41st year, has become a Pensacola tradition and artists from all over the country vie for a spot in the festival. This year alone, judges reviewed over 600 submissions and selected over 200 artists to show their work and compete for $25,000 in prize money. This year’s festival will showcase artists specializing in more than 12 forms of fine arts including ceramics, fiberwork, photography, woodworking, and more.

Judges also selected an international artist to showcase their work at the festival. This year’s artist, Tri Suwarno, is an internationally known Indonesian Wayang Kulit, or shadow puppet, artist. Each puppet is flat, elaborately decorated, and made from water buffalo hide. Suwarno will travel to local schools to share Wayang Kulit, one of the oldest methods of storytelling. Suwarno will also give a public performance at the Pensacola State College Pensacola Campus in the Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts on Wednesday, Oct. 30 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. The performance is free and open to the public.

Even though the festival boasts artists from all over the map, the festival is deeply dedicated to arts right here in Pensacola. Every year, local students are selected to receive the Donna Fassett Art Scholarship, which supports arts education. This year, 11 $500 scholarships were awarded to UWF and PSC students in visual, performing, or media arts. The festival also awarded $10,000 in grants to non-profits in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties for community art projects. This year’s recipients include Appetite for Life, ARC Gateway, Artel Gallery, First City Arts Center, Latino Media Gulf Coasts, Pensacola Museum of Art, Pensacola Opera, and United Cerebral Palsy of NWFL.
“We want to give back and we are proud to do it,” said Longsworth.

Other local cultural institutions will also be at the festival including performances by Ballet Pensacola and the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra. Local dance schools, performance groups, and bands will perform on three different stages.
The festival also promotes local history with its Heritage Arts section, located in Historic Pensacola Village.

“Heritage Arts is really a festival in a festival,” said Longsworth. “We have old fashioned arts and some demonstrations. It’s a really popular part of the festival.”

Heritage Arts artists showcase folk arts and traditional arts including pottery spinning, chair making, wood carving, blacksmithing, and hand knitting. Live demonstrations give festival-goers a glimpse of life in Florida-past.

Longsworth believes that the festival’s consistent quality makes it such a renowned festival. “We always have quality art across many categories,” said Longsworth. “You name any kind of fine art, we will have it.”

Many publications are taking note of the festival’s quality as well. This year, the festival was ranked the 33rd fine arts festival in the nation by Sunshine Artist Magazine and the American Bus Association has named it one of the top 100 events in North America.

GREAT GULFCOAST ARTS FESTIVAL
WHEN: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 2 and 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3
WHERE: Historic Seville Square
COST: Free
DETAILS: ggaf.org