You won’t be surprised to learn that St. Petersburg/Clearwater – with all of its artsy, waterfront allure – hosts one of the nation’s most magnetic art festivals. Mainsail Arts Festival, held annually over two days in April, routinely draws 100,000 attendees to downtown St. Pete’s Vinoy Park, where 200-plus visual artists and craftspeople display their work against sparkling Tampa Bay. Better yet: Admission to the festival is free.
Sunshine Artist™ magazine ranks Mainsail among the “100 Best” fine arts events in the country, and the festival’s status as a juried competition attracts leading artists and craftspeople from across the U.S. and Canada. Expect to see ceramics, fibers, glass pieces, jewelry, metalwork, mixed media creations, photography, sculptures, woodcrafts, watercolors, oils and acrylics in some-250 booths. And note the emphasis on small-batches and handcrafting: Mainsail regulations require reproductions to be labeled and offered in limited, numbered and signed editions. In certain categories (such as ceramic, wood, glass and metal), all pieces must be handmade.
While you browse, chat with the artists and perhaps make a purchase, the judges decide how to divide $50,000 in cash prizes among the artists. Look for ribbons denoting awards of excellence, distinction and merit, and keep an eye out for the grand prize: the Best of Mainsail Award, which brings the winning artist $10,000. Several “Purchase Awards” – pledges by corporate sponsors to buy select artists’ works – are also given.
A waterfront setting is a Mainsail constant, even though the event has shifted between three downtown St. Pete venues since its 1976 inception to accommodate soaring participation. Today, you’ll find the event in Vinoy Park, where views of Tampa Bay and swaying palms backdrop the artists’ work, and entertaining “extras” round out the festival experience. Grab a snack prepared and sold by a local restaurant in the food court; look for beer and wine trucks; listen for strolling minstrels and magicians; and check the concert schedule – past performances have featured steel drum bands, Calypso music and bluegrass.
If you’re attending Mainsail with children, look for the Kids Create tent, where volunteers facilitate free art-making activities. The day’s offering might be print-making, painting with watercolors or even seed-planting. Then, inspire young creatives with a walk through the student art tent, where kindergarteners through high school seniors representing area schools display their creations for judging.
For more information, visit www.mainsailart.org.