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The 47th annual edition continues the festival’s reputation as a premiere exhibition of nationally-juried artists, performing arts, and live music. As a feather in its cap, GGAF is now ranked #9 among the “Nation’s Best Fine Art and Design Shows,” an accolade announced by Sunshine Artist Magazine.
“I have been involved with GGAF since 1988 and this is the first time we have ever ranked in the top 10,” said Eileen Perrigo, president of its Board of Directors.
Sunshine Artist, a trade publication which tracks art and craft shows nationwide, compiled its rankings by surveying past exhibiting artists.
“From personal interaction with the artists, they enjoy the outdoor ambiance in Seville Square, the friendliness of the volunteers and art patrons, and geographic location,” Perrigo added.
The Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival started humbly in 1973 in the parking lot of the former Municipal Auditorium. Later, it strategically moved to the leafier Plaza Ferdinand and eventually Seville Square. Today, it draws between 100,000-150,000 visitors and stimulates a $12 million impact in the community according to research commissioned by Visit Pensacola. This year, 600-plus artists applied to display their work across a wide swath of media with $25,000 in prize money at stake. Over 200 artists from 30 states were chosen, 59 of which are new to the festival, and 12 are local.
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As the park is stuffed with this turnout under its copse of spidery oaks, it’s easy for visitors to not see the trees for the forest. Within its juried ranks, is a tradition known as the Invited International Artist, an annual cultural exchange awarded to an overseas applicant. Through local sponsors like Residence Inn and Gulf Winds Credit Union, the program includes presentations at several local schools, a demonstration at Pensacola State College, and tours of local landmarks, leading up to festival weekend. This year’s guest is Esmeraldo Abalde, a painter from Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines.
“For me, art has no boundaries,” Abalde said. “I like to think that my contribution is imparting a permanent impact on those around me and making them discover beauty through my art.”
Abalde paints from photographs for his landscapes and figures. As a child he was inspired by his mother’s drawings and pursued his own art. He earned a business degree and set out on a professional path but never lost his original passion. His paintings are best described as hybrids of realism and abstraction. One, for example, is an obvious cluster of trees but Abalde blurs out much of the scene, adding a touch of mystery.
“I don’t leave too much detail in the paintings because I want to leave something for the imagination,” he explained.
A portrait of a young woman on her phone and a misty traffic scene are given similar treatment, two of at least 30 works on display at the festival. After painting for 18 years, Abalde is branching out with overseas exposure, including his maiden visit to the U.S. in Pensacola. He found the festival’s Invited International Artist on the internet and is now absorbing our coastal scenery for his next paintings.
“I was really amazed at what they offered,” Abalde said of the trip. “It’s such a great opportunity for striving artists.”
Gulf Breeze resident Rob Uniacke creates a new piece of artwork for the upcoming Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival. The Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival has selected Uniacke as one of two Emerging Arts featured at the year's arts fest. (Photo: Tony Gibersonemail@example.com)
Another fairly new festival tradition is the Emerging Artists Program, which awards a booth to a pair of budding artists under the mentorship of two local artists, Kelsey Adams and Kathi Gordon. This year’s recipients are Rob Uniacke, a painter, and bead artist Crystal King, both exhibiting near the gazebo. Uniacke renders beach scenes and coastal sea life. A U.K. transplant and RN by day, he started painting seriously about seven years ago and found his way to foam brushes.
“Over the years I found a style,” he recalled. “My use of foam brushes allows me to not be too focused on the details of the subject but be able to concentrate on capturing the spirit and soul of the subject.”
Uniacke started selling his work at Native Café on Pensacola Beach. He expanded his audience with commissions and showed at a few venues like Marty Campbell Gallery. For the festival he’s excited about showing twenty new works and a catalog of prints.
“It was kind of a way to force me into,” he said of the opportunity. “I think festivals are my next step.”
Pensacola artist Crystal King shows off some of her hand-made jewelry during a visit to the Pensacola News Journal on Oct. 22, 2019. King is one of two artists selected by the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival to have their work shown as an Emerging Artist. (Photo: Tony Gibersonfirstname.lastname@example.org)
King, a Pensacola native, will present her intricate beadwork designs in the form of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.
“The pieces I make are often comprised of hundreds of seed beads and crystals, which are stitched individually,” King said.
Like most jewelry artists, King is a hunter and gatherer of beads, gems, and shells, which she assembles in tight mosaic patterns. She’s grouped her work into three categories- “Mardi Gras,” “Gulf Coast,” and “Garden,” with the intention of creating something special and enduring. King is also pursuing an M.A. in Arts in Medicine at the Univ. of Florida.
“I’ve always found art to be very healing,” she said. “I wanted to do something with it to help people.”
With the plural “arts” in its title, the festival ventures outside the frame for a variety of music and performance. The “Music on the Mainstage” schedule kicks off with jazz and blues by the Curt Bol Band. Local pop-folk singer Tonya Gallagher, who’s a cartographer in Santa Rosa County, will perform on the heels of her new release, “One Hand on My Heart.” The weekend continues with zydeco by Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys, the salsa outfit John Wooton & Salseros del Sur, Kim Carson, billed as the “Honky Tonk Queen of New Orleans;” and of course, the local on-demand siren/chanteuse Holly Shelton.
Recovering from the opening concert of their 94th season the night before, the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra will perform its traditional GGAF gig with casual pop tunes and patriotic numbers. Closing out the schedule is The Krickets, a panhandle-based swamp-folk band whose recent single “Redbird” was named the 2019 Alt Country Song of the Year by the Independent Music Awards.
The Parrish Performing Arts Stage serves as a reunion for community acts like SWERVE, Five Star Dance Centre, Pensacola Youth Ballet, Perdido Performing Arts, Emerald Coast Belly Dance, and McGuire’s Pipe Band.
The festival also sprawls outside Seville Square. To the south at Bartram Park is the children’s art festival with a variety of hands-on activities. Under the big tent is the student art show, a gallery of over 2,000 works by Escambia and Santa Rosa County students, public and private. On Friday, the children’s art festival is open exclusively to students with special needs.
Westward along Zaragoza Street, is the Heritage Arts, a stream of booths that samples the handmade, the folksy, and sometimes, the down-right odd. Think homemade soap, blacksmithing, and spinning (fibers, not fitness). Artisans will vie for $2,000 in awards.
While perusing the Heritage Arts check in with Gulf Coast Quilt trail, a local textile arts guild that’s promoting their craft with a barn quilt scavenger hunt.
“Basically, we will be hanging 17 painted quilt squares at all the downtown parking lots around Seville Square,” explained Heather Ensley, Chairperson of the Quilt Trail. “We will pass out paper maps for art patrons to try and find all the barn quilts.”
Painted squares of plywood or aluminum, barn quilts were originally designed to mark historic barns, a viral movement that started in 2001 in Ohio.
The Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival is also expanding its territory to Museum Plaza behind the T.T Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum. GGAF had its eye on the plaza during its construction.
“UWF Historic Trust has always been a big supporter of the Arts Festival,” said Claudine Kriss, Secretary with the GGAF Board of Directors. “We liked the fact that it had a stage and plenty of space for people to sit and listen to music.”
Likewise, the Jazz Society of Pensacola will provide entertainment while the Historic Trust will deploy story tellers.
Before you leave don’t forget to pick up a poster, a collectible souvenir that acts as the face of the festival. The annual poster is selected through a competition, awarding $1000 to the winning entrant. This year’s winner is Emily Woodson, a graphic designer in Pace whose design is based on her painting of a woman standing on the beach, clutching her hat against the palette of the surf. Woodson grew up watching her grandmother paint seascapes and they went to the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival every year. The inspiration led Woodson to a BFA in illustration. Her grandmother, who died earlier this year, encouraged her to enter the poster competition.
“I know she’s looking down proudly to see that I finally did,” Woodson said. “And my work was chosen to represent the festival we love.”
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