ST. PETERSBURG — Before the Second Saturday Art Walk and Trolley Tour, before the galleries began to sprout along Beach Drive, before the city was dubbed a top arts destination, the Mainsail Arts Festival was one of the best-known arts showcases in town.
The City of St. Petersburg launched the festival in 1976 in conjunction with celebrations of the country’s bicentennial, and organizers started calling it “Mainsail” the following year to highlight the fact that it takes place along the downtown waterfront. Fewer than 40 artists showed up.
Now, there are so many people interested in showing their stuff that the nonprofit organization that runs the event now has an artist application deadline well in advance of the April event. Sunday is the deadline for artists to apply.
“Now we get close to a thousand applicants,” said Lisa Wells, a member of the festival’s steering committee.
The event has become so big that it grew out of its original North Straub Park digs and now takes place at Vinoy Park, a few blocks north.
In part, that’s because word has spread about the festival and, in part, because it’s become lucrative for participants who catch the eye of jury members judging their work.
“The prize money is something that’s really changed this year,” Wells said.
The number is now at $60,000, a $10,000 increase, and it’s split up into several categories. The Best of Mainsail Gold Award nets the winner $10,000.
St. Petersburg’s growing reputation as an arts destination can’t hurt either, Wells said. The local arts scene has grown up considerably in the nearly four decades since the festival started, with the openings of the Dali Museum, the Dale Chihuly Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts. The city has collected numerous accolades for its reputation as an arts destination in recent years and has been attracting hordes of artists working in a range of media.
The types of work represented at Mainsail consist of a wide range as well — from photography and paintings to ceramics, glass and wood. About 250 artists’ work will be selected from the applicant pool.
Artists wishing to be a part of the Mainsail festival should go to www.zapplication.org.