Gulfport’s first ever Masters Art Festival went off without a hitch last weekend, leaving organizers ecstatic and already making plans for another bigger and better event next year.
With Mother Nature cooperating to provide blue skies and warm temperatures, several dozen artists set up shop February 20 and 21 along Veterans Park’s curved sidewalks overlooking Boca Ciega Bay, displaying works in a wide variety of mediums ranging from glass and paint to fabrics and leather.
“By almost any measure, the festival was an immense success!” said Daniel Hodge, vice president of the Gulfport Merchants Association, which sponsored the show along with the Gulfport Chamber of Commerce and the city of Gulfport. “The town was booming with visitors over the weekend, many of whom reported this was their first experience with Gulfport and were loving it.”
Event Director Richard Sullivan of Naples-based boulderbrook productions agreed. “So many people commented on the quality of the art and how beautiful the park looked with all the artists placed along the pathways,” he said. “The artists were very happy and all of them mentioned that they are looking forward to returning again for the Second Annual Gulfport Masters Art Festival.”
The project was the brainchild of the Gulfport Merchants Association and the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce, which wanted to create an event that would help build Gulfport’s image as an arts destination and support local artists.
“A true fine art show is something that has been discussed for many years,” Hodge said.
He said organizers hoped the festival would draw first-time visitors with money to spend in the city’s galleries, restaurants and shops, and that they would return “after they have discovered what Gulfport has to offer.”
The show was the city’s first outdoor art event to be held over two days and the first to be located in Veterans Park, he said.
Festival visitor Angela Petitto of Gulfport, who made some purchases at the show, had only good things to say about it.
“It’s an amazing first year show with a very high level of crafts,” she said. “I did trade shows for years and I’m really impressed with the offerings here. I hope to see this show every year.”
Artist Cesar Clavijo of Virginia, who was manning a booth selling shoes, handbags and accessories made from molas, a textile art native to Panama, said he was very pleased with the show.
“It’s very well organized. The space is nice,” he said, adding that the booths weren’t crowded together. “Also, there are good people here.”
Sullivan, whose group holds a dozen high quality art festivals in Southwest Florida communities ranging from Naples to Clearwater, said he was invited to Gulfport by the Merchants Association to assess the possibility of the city hosting a show.
“After meeting with them and getting familiar with the city I thought that it would be a very good spot to build a new art event,” he said. The goal is to build a show that draws as many as 70 artists each year.
“Gulfport is becoming an artist destination,” he said. “An event like this can increase the artistic reputation that has been developing and make Gulfport synonymous with art and artists.”