Downtown Festival Attracts Best in Art, Artists

The 35th Downtown Festival & Art Show will not only showcase 240 visual artists competing for $20,000 in prizes but also put the spotlight on a variety of performance artists on four stages.

"Life Imitates Art," an acrylic painting by Miriam Novack.
“Life Imitates Art,” an acrylic painting by Miriam Novack, will be on display this weekend.

Miriam Novack said being an artist is “a solitary job.” Working in a studio can be a lonely task with little interaction with other people.

Jim Harrison's poster design.
Jim Harrison’s poster design depicts a sand hill crane.

That is why Novack and many other artists enjoy displaying their work at art festivals such as the 35th Downtown Festival & Art Show, which takes place this weekend on the streets of downtown Gainesville.

“It’s the payoff,” she said. “It’s so exciting because people are generally kind and appreciative and make you feel like a million bucks. That’s why I never get tired of doing shows.”

Novack will be one of some 240 artists displaying their works in all mediums during the Gainesville show, which is consistently ranked among the top art shows in the nation. Upward of 100,000 people are expected to attend the two-day event, which is open Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

“And it looks like the weather is going to cooperate!” said Sunny Andrei, events coordinator for the City of Gainesville and in her first year in charge of the art festival. “It’s going to be beautiful.”

The forecast calls for clear skies with high temperatures in the 70s both days. A light breeze might give the air an autumn-like chill.

Novack will set up her colorful acrylic paintings in the same spot she has had for the past 20 years, on Southeast 1st Street in front of Lillian’s Music Store. She loves that her booth (#47) is in a high-traffic area, about halfway between the Hippodrome Theatre and University Avenue.

“It’s invigorating the interaction between me and the public,” she said.

Miriam Novack and some of her acrylic paintings. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)
Miriam Novack and some of her acrylic paintings. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Novack’s painting style is distinctive, using what she calls “a celebration of colors, patterns and textures to evoke a joyous response in the viewer.” She abandoned the Impressionist style many years ago, and her work has evolved into something uniquely her own.

“I call it looking at the world through a kaleidoscope,” she said. “The images are fractured.”

Novack is just one of a number of local artists who have shown their work for many years at the Downtown Festival & Art Show. Peter Senesac and his brother Bob have been around since the beginning — even earlier.

“My brother and I were in the festival before it was even an art show,” he said. “As I recall, it was just a display in the front window of the old Wilson Furniture Store on Northeast 1st Street. From there, it grew into a real show.”

Although also a photographer and painter, Peter Senesac will display his handcrafted silver and gold jewelry during the Downtown Festival & Art Show. His booth (#78) will also be on Southeast 1st Street, next to his brother’s booth (#78) and directly in front of V-Pizza and the Hampton Inn & Suites.

“That’s prime real estate,” he said. “I get to see a lot of people I don’t get to see the rest of the year.”

A silver alligator belt buckle, by Peter Senesac.
A silver alligator belt buckle by Peter Senesac.

Most of Senesac’s designs are inspired by nature. His belt-buckle designs include gators, tarpon, bass, grouper, bulldogs and Labradors.

“I’ll have a few new designs and an extensive collection of my belt buckles, rings, necklaces and bracelets,” he said.

Senesac said he expects to do well this weekend because “It’s the best show for sales. It’s also good quality.”

This year’s Downtown Festival & Art Show will offer 25 prizes totaling $20,300. This will be the first year that Best-in-Show winners will be announced in both 2D and 3D categories. Each winner will receive a $2,000 check.

Last year's festival drew large crowds to downtown Gainesville.
Last year’s art festival drew large crowds to downtown Gainesville.

In addition to the dual top prizes, another new feature of this year’s festival is the Young Artist Courtyard, where artists ages 7-18 can display and sell their own original artwork. This year, 13 local youths will share 10 booths on the plaza in front of City Hall.

Of the 240 artists participating in the festival, about half are from Gainesville and Alachua County. Other artists have come from as far away as California, Washington state, Pennsylvania and New York. One artist, Prince Luckner Candio, is from Haiti.

In addition to artwork, the Downtown Festival & Art Show will have 55 booths for community organizations, a Children’s Imagination Station and 20 food vendors, selling everything from kettle corn and funnel cakes to chicken tenders and Greek gyros.

Entertainment will take place on four stages, with a new show starting at the top of each hour, ranging from jazz and folk to country and blues. The Aerial Stage on Southeast 2nd Place will feature dancers aerial arts. There will also be street entertainment both days.

Eleanor Blair with some of her paintings at a recent show. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)
Eleanor Blair in front of some of her landscape paintings at a recent show. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Of course, most people attend the show for the art. At least, that’s what Eleanor Blair has concluded in more than 20 years exhibiting her work at the Downtown Festival & Art Show.

“It’s a good time of year before the Christmas buying season,” she said. “My theory is that fresh flowers, a bowl of fruit and nice paintings on the wall is a shortcut to good housekeeping.”

Blair owns the Eleanor Blair Studio at 113 S. Main St., which is less than a block from where she will set up her booth (#27) on Southeast 1st Avenue, in front of Emiliano’s Café.

“I see every person in the world I ever knew during the weekend,” she said.

Blair said she has a theory on why she does good business during the Downtown Festival & Art Show.

“I’m not selling my work — I’m showing it and sharing it,” she said. “I purchase art myself, so I know how the conversation goes that one has. I have empathy for the thought process and emotional process involved in buying art. When you’re buying art, it’s more soul-searching than anything.”

Blair is an art collector. Her home in the Duckpond neighborhood of downtown Gainesville is adorned with the paintings and sculptures of too many artists to count.

Although Blair paints many subjects, her Florida landscapes are especially popular during the Downtown Festival & Art Show. Area residents can easily recognize her paintings that depict the Suwannee River, the Ichetucknee, Payne’s Prairie and Sweetwater Park.

“I spend a lot of time outdoors,” she said.

Miriam Novack said she makes a point of leaving her booth before the show opens to see what other artists are displaying for the festival. She is always surprised by the quality of the show.

“The caliber of art is very impressive,” she said. “It’s amazing that our town has one of the top shows. It’s nice to be a part of that.”

— Noel Leroux

For further info, visit the Downtown Festival & Art Show website.

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