DUNEDIN — Traffic was backed up all the way to U.S. 19. Parking was sparse. Students on Dunedin High School’s varsity soccer team squinted in the Sunday afternoon sun as they directed hundreds of cars through their school parking lot.
Yet the atmosphere inside the 50th annual Dunedin Art Harvest, which drew around 50,000 people during it’s two-day stint at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, was nothing short of jubilation over the paintings, photos, jewelry, carvings and other handmade creations from some of the best artists in the nation.
Not just anyone can display their work in one of the 300 tents in Highlander Park. The artists were hand-picked by a panel of world-renowned artists, and the best of the best walked away with $27,500 in prize money from area sponsors.
“The quality of the art is what really sets this show apart from the hundreds of others in this area,” said Pinellas Park photographer William Underwood, who displayed his black and white photos of Florida’s coast for the first time at the show. “About twice as many people apply for this show as get in, so just being here is an honor.”
But the festival wasn’t always the subject of so much hype, said president of the Junior League of Clearwater-Dunedin Terri Kontodiakos. When the service organization started the show in 1963 it was a sidewalk festival with only a handful of displays, but now its become the largest juried art show in Florida and among the largest in the southeast.
Artists from Michigan to Mexico were hand selected to be in the show, though many of the artists came from Florida and the Tampa Bay area, Kontodiakos said. Over the years, the show has evolved to also spotlight local bands, food vendors, the traditional Scottish Dunedin Dancers and even future artists in the children’s arts and crafts pavilion.
For the show’s 50th birthday, hundreds of volunteers from the Junior League, local artists and fans of the show came together to host the biggest crowds yet, bringing in around $80,000 for the Junior League to invest back into community programs, like Dunedin High School’s marching band and soccer team.
“Just because an artist is local it doesn’t mean they’ll get into the show, but Tampa Bay has an extremely rich arts community that’s well respected,” Kontodiakos said. “We have great artists every year, but this year everything seems special. We had tons of talent here this year, and it’s really brought a lot of solidarity to our league and the local arts community.”
For Gulfport painter Cheryll Grogan, who was chosen to create this year’s promotional art piece to be featured on fliers, T-shirts and other merchandise, the arts harvest is not only an opportunity to sell her work to thousands of customers, but also a chance to be reminded of her roots. Grogan has participated in the show for six years, but it was after her first showing that she decided to quit her job as a mail carrier for the post office and make art her career.
“I have customers I see every year, and it’s so nice to have this huge event with such a community feel,” Grogan said while autographing event posters featuring her painting of a blue 1963 Volkswagon van parked in the middle of Highlander Park.
While the prize money was a big draw, the opportunity to interact with people that were interested in their work was one of the biggest advantages of the show. Nestled between booths of jewelry made from broken china and drivable Volkswagon beetles covered in metal work, John Mascoll spoke with passersby about his stately, polished wood vases that earned him $7,000 and the top honor of Best in Show. The soft spoken woodworker from Safety Harbor has participated in the show for 14 years and has won multiple awards, but never Best in Show.
“I just like to take a piece of wood and expose to the best of my ability what mother nature has created. She’s the true artist,” Mascoll said. “Knowing that people and judges appreciate my work is huge. I don’t get much hype most of the time, so it feels pretty good.”