Artists, Crowds Will Flock to 37th Downtown Festival

This year’s Downtown Festival & Art Show has been pushed back to the first weekend in December, but organizers and artists still anticipate a successful event.

Sylvia McIntyre-Crook’s finished work, “Confined or Free” featuring Sandhill Cranes, that she will be displaying at the Downtown Festival & Art Show this weekend.

When Sylvia McIntyre-Crook found out that the 37th annual Downtown Festival & Art Show would be held in early December this year instead of its traditional mid-November date, she felt relief.

You see, McIntyre-Crook needed a few extra weeks to prepare for the show after falling off a ladder last spring and crushing a vertebra.

“I had surgery and am doing quite well, but I did have to take three months off of painting,” she said.

McIntyre-Crook was back in her Gainesville studio during the summer, painting vivid oil images of North Central Florida landscapes and her signature Sandhill Cranes. Now she’s looking forward to the Downtown Festival & Art Show, which takes place Saturday and Sunday on the streets of downtown Gainesville. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. both days.

The event, organized by the City of Gainesville’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, showcases the work of 240 artists from as far away as Canada and Haiti. There are more than 40 artists from Gainesville in the show this year and dozens more from Alachua County and the region.

“I really enjoy the Gainesville festival,” said McIntyre-Crook, who will have a booth at the festival for the fourth time. “My favorite part, other than people purchasing my work, is talking with the people who stop into my booth. I enjoy hearing their perceptions of my work and talking about art in general.”

She said visitors who view her work often share personal stories about Sandhill Cranes. In fact, for the past couple of months, McIntyre-Crook has been working on an installation themed around her favorite long-necked, broad-winged subject.

“It is a large piece consisting of three canvas panels and four Sandhill cutouts,” she said of the 8-by-10-foot piece. “It’s called ‘Confined or Free.’ The three canvases convey Sandhills as seen through windows.”

Four cut-out Sandhills appear to fly in front of the canvases, as though one is seeing them while outside. McIntyre-Crook had proposed the piece during the “call to artists” submission process for the new Public Defender’s building in downtown Gainesville.

Her finished “Confined or Free” piece will take up an entire wall of her booth (No. 47) on Southeast 1st Street near Lillian’s Music Store.

An acrylic painting from Miriam Novack’s “Survivors” series.

Two booths away (No. 45) will be Miriam Novack, a Gainesville artist exhibiting her work for the 19th time at the Downtown Festival & Art Show. This year, some of her vibrant acrylic paintings will reflect a personal journey.

“A year ago I had a double mastectomy, and that has resulted in the new — for me — theme of ‘Survivors,’ which I have devoted to a new series of paintings,” Novack said. “It has been a very personal and therapeutic process for me.”

Sunshine Andrei, the city’s event coordinator for the Downtown Festival & Art Show, said the show is expected to once again draw huge crowds despite its unusual early December date.

“To my knowledge, this is the latest the Festival has taken place,” she said. “Past years when there was a reschedule, the date was earlier in the year instead of later.”

Andrei said she was at the mercy of the Florida Gators’ football schedule, which included three consecutive November home games, and this year’s early Thanksgiving holiday.

“We considered moving the dates to earlier in the calendar and looked at October,” Andrei said. “The closest weekend available was October 13 and 14. The concern we had with that weekend was the potential heat and possibility for a hurricane. With those two factors, we decided to schedule the first weekend in December since it had a higher chance for better weather.”

Unfortunately, this weekend’s forecast in Gainesville calls for a strong chance of showers on Saturday. However, unseasonably warm temperatures are expected both days.

This year’s festival poster, featuring the quilt work of Gainesville native and current Virginia resident Cindy Grisdela.

“We were concerned, at first, on how the date change would affect the participation of artists,” Andrei said. “But we had a great response to our call for artists, with over 400 applications received, and are very happy with the talented artists participating this year.”

Andrei said there are more than 40 artists new to the show this year. In addition to an artist from Canada, Vern Jidong Yan from Toronto, and the Jacmel artist group from Haiti, this year’s Downtown Festival & Art Show will include artists from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, Ohio, New York, Maryland, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Minnesota and Maine.

The event will include ongoing entertainment on four stages, including Bo Diddley Plaza and the children’s Imagination Station, which is being sponsored for the first time by O2BKids! Also new this year, the NCFL Breastfeeding Coalition is providing a courtesy tent for mothers and their infants.

As usual, the area around the Hippodrome Theatre will be reserved for dozens of community organizations. Those groups participating for their first time include Generations Relief in Prosthetics (GRiP), Gainesville Peer Respite, Southeastern Guide Dogs and Rebuilding Together NCF.

“Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs is grateful to everyone that plays a part in making this event happen,” Andrei said. “This event would not be possible without the collaboration of various city departments and the wonderful group of interns and volunteers who give their time before, during and after the event on the countless details.”

In turn, the artists enjoy how the Downtown Festival & Art Show welcomes them.

“The show has always been remarkably well run, due in large part to the expert handling by [former coordinator] Linda Piper,” Novack said. “The wonderful personal touch she had with the artists has been passed down to Sunny.”

Peter Carolin next to one of his huge landscape paintings at the 2016 Downtown Festival & Art Show. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Peter Carolin, a Gainesville artist who has participated in the show almost since the beginning in the 1980s, said the large crowds are what make the Downtown Festival & Art Show memorable.

“There is such a big crowd of everyone rich, poor, all races and religions, young, old, liberal and conservative, all intermingling in peace and harmony,” he said. “The only other place this is so well experienced would be at the ocean or soaking in a spring, inches apart.

“In the past 28 or 29 years, with all this intermingling, I have never seen an act of theft, arrest or violence among the crowds. That is truly remarkable.”

Eleanor Blair, who owns a studio at 113 S. Main St., less than a block from her booth (No. 27) on Southeast 1st Avenue, will be returning from a trip to Rwanda to participate in the show.

“I’ve been in the show for many years and my work has been featured on two festival posters,” she said. “The show is very convenient for me because I set up my booth near my studio. The weather is always the most important factor and, of course, it’s also the least predictable. I’m hoping for cool sunshine!”

Blair said she likes the December date, and is glad it won’t conflict with the Downtown Holiday Artwalk on Friday, Dec. 7.

Novack said the Downtown Festival & Art Show has a strong reputation in terms of sales.

Visitors stroll between rows of artists’ booths along Southeast 1st Street during the 2017 Downtown Festival & Art Show. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

“There always seems to be a great buying crowd that attends the show, which makes it all the more fun for us artists,” she said. “The lateness of the show has not created any problem for me thus far. We’ll see if the usual buying crowds attend.”

Carolin, however, does not like pushed-back date because it created a scheduling conflict.

“I was forced to withdraw from participating in my favorite Paint-Out event in New Smyrna Beach, which had been scheduled previously in October and also moved to this weekend,” he said. “It is also in conflict with Christmas season events. … It needs to return to the first weekend in November, and the Gators need to work around it!”

McIntyre-Crook said early December seems like a good time for an art festival — well, at least in Florida.

“People buy my work for different reasons, so I don’t know if having the event closer to the holiday season is good for sales of paintings or a detriment,” she said. “I imagine the later date could be good for others types of art, such as jewelry.”

The Downtown Festival & Art Show also features a wide array of food vendors.

“I look forward to my once-a-year funnel cake!” McIntyre-Crook added.

The festival weekend actually begins on Friday with the Downtown Blues Concert at Bo Diddley Plaza beginning at 7 p.m. Sarasota-based blues and soul vocalist Lauren Mitchell headlines the concert, which also features Sheba the Mississippi Queen & the Bluesmen.

Sweet William, an acoustic blues and country singer from Palatka, opens the show, which is presented by the North Central Florida Blues Society. Admission is free.

— Noel Leroux

For further info, including a list of artists and festival map, visit the Downtown Festival & Art Show website.

Read about this year’s poster artist, Cindy Grisdela, in our related article: Downtown Festival Poster Features Hometown Artist.

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