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By Bev Ringenberg
Special to the Beacon
From the late 70s through around 2005, there is nothing at the Historical Society that chronicles the Art Festival story, but locals report that the two festivals thrived, Seafood Festival in the fall and the Arts Festival in the spring. Both festivals continued to be important sources of income for Cedar Key businesses and non-profit groups each year. By the mid-1990s, the two festivals were both basically arts and crafts shows and the juried art event that was described in the Tampa Tribune as “one of the finest and most highly respected art shows in the Southeast United States” had disappeared.
That all began to change in 2005, when the Chamber of Commerce took over the coordination of the Spring Arts Festival at the request of the Lions Club. After that first year, the Chamber Festival Committee decided that it might be wise to involve some artists if this truly was going to be an art festival. According to Marsha Schwartz, one of the artists who joined the committee along with several other artists, chamber members and community leaders, the group decided to take on the challenge of returning to a juried fine arts venue (meaning that artists had to send in pictures of their work, a committee of artists reviewed the applications and only selected artists were invited to be in the festival).
It became obvious very quickly that putting on a juried fine arts venue was no easy task. Attracting fine artists to our small town was a major challenge according to Schwartz. With two fine arts festivals the same month in Gainesville and Tampa competing for top artists and the festival’s reputation as more of an arts and crafts event, they had their work cut out for them. The committee consulted with Linda Fisher, who coordinates the Fall Arts Festival in Gainesville, as well as several other art festival coordinators throughout Florida. Favors were asked and strings were pulled by these local artists to bring the best to Cedar Key that first year.
In addition, the committee decided the best way to build the fine arts venue was to make Cedar Key a place where artists would want to come back to. One of the ways this was done was by providing unheard of hospitality and amenities – Tony’s Seafood Restaurant agreed to serve a hot breakfast to all artists and guests, the Cedar Key Arts Center hosted an unprecedented Artists Reception and Awards Ceremony on Saturday night, Cedar Key Canvas made zippered bags for all artists, Block Captains were assigned to help artists throughout the festival and an impressive Prize and Purchase Award Program was developed. Their plan worked and the reputation of Cedar Key’s Spring Arts Festival began to grow.
As part of the plan to reinvent the festival, the committee decided to give it a new name, the Old Florida Celebration of the Arts. Although long, and a bit cumbersome at times, the new name definitely reflects what is truly special about the Cedar Key Spring Arts Festival – a place where art-history and nature come together for a very special weekend.
Join us April 12 and 13, 2014 for the 50th Annual Spring Arts Festival in Cedar Key.