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Historic arts festival returns to Gainesville for its 51st edition after three-year hiatus

Santa Fe College’s Oak Grove where artists will exhibit their work during the event. (Ana Trias/WUFT News)
Santa Fe College’s Oak Grove where artists will exhibit their work during the event. (Ana Trias/WUFT News)

Eleanor Blair remembers selling her first two paintings at the Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival in the early 1970s, an arts fair she participated in every year until the pandemic.

“I'm very excited to see how it'll go,” Blair said referring to the festival’s return. “All being outside, the beautiful weather, the wonderful experience of having an audience for my work and an opportunity to just sit there with other artists” are things she looks forward to this year.

The festival’s hiatus was caused by the unexpected passing of former director, Raul Villarreal, in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It's really an honor for us to pick up that legacy and to try to carry on the history of the festival and bring it back home in a sense to our campus,” said SF’s Art Gallery Manager and Spring Arts Festival Co-organizer, Kyle Novak.

The historic festival returns on Saturday, April 1, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, April 2, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will be held on SF’s Northwest Campus, whereas in previous years, it took place on the Thomas Center’s grounds and northeast first street.

SF’s visual art faculty started the festival in 1969. Over the years, “it has slowly grown to be one of the biggest cultural events in all of Gainesville and maybe even in the region of North Central Florida,” said Novak. He added that this location change is an exciting opportunity to highlight everything the college has to offer including the zoo, the planetarium, and the Museum of Earth Science, which will all host events throughout the weekend to go along with the art festival.

“A lot of things that we can offer on our campus weren't possible to offer in the previous location,” said Novak. “Now, we really get an opportunity to highlight… all of the things that are beautiful about our campus and make us unique.”

Additionally, the festival will feature a diverse range of artists across various mediums, student performances and independent businesses, as well as local food trucks, live music, entertainment zones for kids and a paint party at SF’s Teaching Zoo on Sunday.

“Guests will be invited to join us in a special off-exhibit area and they'll be guided through a painting,” said SF Zoo Director Jonathan Miot.

“It's another way for them to interact with art and animals within their community at the same time.”

Tickets for the paint party are available on the zoo’s website. Miot said his team hopes the event will sell out and recommends buying tickets in advance.

Novak said he expects a smaller turnout this time compared to previous years, due to the festival’s relocation.

“I think in the past, 100,000 people was the estimated attendance for the previous iterations of the festival. So we're expecting about 10,000 this first year and hopefully more,” he said. “I think it'll just grow from there.”

To be part of the festival, artists have to apply and be selected by a jury composed of the college’s visual art faculty. “Then, those artists are invited to participate and then they choose whether to accept that invitation or not,” said Novak.

Stacey Breheny, a SF College designated faculty member and independent painter, was selected as this year’s poster artist whose “Sparkleberry Spring” painting would feature in the event’s marketing material.

The oil on canvas, which Breheny said she created a few years ago during an Open Arts festival, is composed of a nature scene and features bright colors.

Poster copies of the original artwork will be sold at SF’s bookstore during the festival. “I'll be available to sign them and I'll also be selling postcard size prints of other paintings of mine as well,” Breheny said.

Gainesville’s Regional Transit System (RTS) will provide free transportation to and from the festival throughout its duration. According to Novak, additional routes and locations will be covered. A full schedule can be found here.

Ana is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.