42nd Annual Downtown Festival and Art Show draws thousands to Gainesville

Art lovers, food fanatics and music enthusiasts enjoyed beautiful weather, culture and art at the 42nd Annual Downtown Festival and Art Show on Nov. 18 and 19.

The event featured more than 200 artists, 15 food vendors, dozens of musical performances, children’s activities, and shows by various performing groups such as the Gainesville Belly Dance Company and the Gainesville Circus Center.

Chelsea Carnes, the festival coordinator, organizes concerts, cultural events, art programs and festivals. This is her second year managing and directing the Downtown Festival and Art Show.

Carnes said there is a little something for everyone at the festival.

“We plan year-round. There are 200 artists, 40 community groups, 50 volunteers, over 100 performers, five stages, a dozen food trucks, and more. It’s a year-round effort,” she said.

Booths displayed a wide range of different art mediums such as ceramics, digital art, drawing/printmaking, fiber, jewelry, metal, 2D and 3D mixed media, painting, photography, sculpture and wood.

Based on last year’s turn out of 40,000 people attending the festival, Carnes said she expected the number of attendees to be about the same, if not more.

Many of the artists participating in the event are Gainesville locals, however many are visitors from other cities.

Gainesville resident Jessie D. Reyes, showcased her Cuban folk art at the show.

“I work on all these pieces with my mom and with my husband. We take very proud of our culture, we are from Cuba,” Reyes said.

On the first day of the festival, Reyes’ booth was given the Judges Award. Her artwork showcases a multitude of vibrant colors, made with acrylic paint on canvases. She draws inspiration from her home country and city, Havana, Cuba, she said.

“I’ve been doing it my whole life. I learned it from my mom because it’s a family tradition for me,” Reyes said.

Mary Bielenstein, a mixed-media artist from Miami, had never been to Gainesville before and was participating in this art show for the first time.

She’s been doing art for about 35 years, and each piece is meant to tell short stories by using different materials, she said. She uses paper collage, fabric collage, acrylic paint and oil paint to create those stories.

“I like storytelling,” Bielenstein said. “Each piece that I have is like a little miniature story, and I just think it out before I begin. I create the imagine in my mind and then I go for it.”

“But I like fairytales, I like magic, I like mystery, I like color, I like beauty. And so, that’s what I focus on,” she said.

An overhead look at one of the festival streets the morning of Saturday, November 18. The Gainesville Circus Center and the Gainesville Belly Dance Company were stationed at the aerial stage next to Loosey’s Downtown Gainesville on Southwest First Avenue. Both performing companies took turns performing during the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Andrea Rivera-Jimenez/WUFT News)

The art show at the festival is a juried show, Carnes said, which means artists must apply to participate. Calls for artists usually launch in January and close by March. A panel of art professionals blindly scores the applications based on a rubric, and the artists’ identities are absent during the selection process. The top scoring 200 artists are chosen.

Another artist among the 200 chosen was Hoyt Childers, a potter from Newberry. He has participated in the Downtown Festival and Art Show in the past. The show is a good way to get exposure and be a part of the arts community in Gainesville, he said.

Childers has been doing pottery off and on since 1972. He has his own studio in his home where he creates everything himself, including mixing his own clays and building his own kiln.

“A lot of the glazes I use are things I studied in college like 50 years ago,” said Childers. “I’ve kind of kept the same formulas and modified them, and they’ve kind of evolved over time.”

Childers’ pottery, which uses inspiration from nature, ranges from mugs and vases to bowls, dishes and décor. Each piece features a vibrant mix of aqua and seafoam blues with hints of brown and beige.

In addition to the 200 art booths, the annual festival offered children’s activities. At the Imagination Station, children designed masks, painted their own art, created puppets, sculpted clay and drew with sidewalk chalk. The Imagination Stage also included puppet shows, magic acts and musical performances for kids.

The festival is entirely funded by booth fees and sponsorships, meaning it doesn’t receive funding from the general government or city taxes. And it features more than 40 nonprofit groups, offering awareness about local causes and opportunities to volunteer and engage with the greater Gainesville community.

Gainesville Police Department, the Gainesville Fire Rescue, and more than 40 volunteers worked together in safety trainings to ensure the multicultural celebration was safe and the flow of traffic was controlled.

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