45th annual arts showcase ignites Miami’s cultural scene

The influx of art festivals this winter continued in full force with the Coconut Grove Arts Festival over President’s Day weekend. Presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, the festival returned in its 45th year, maintaining Coconut Grove’s status as Miami’s traditional arts center.

As Miami becomes a growing location for international artists to present their work, the Grove’s traditional setting attempts to emulate this movement. This year, the layout of the festival was expanded, starting on McFarlane Road and snaking its way all the way down to South Bayshore Drive. After wading through the cattle-like crowd past Johnny Rocket’s, patrons were met with the new obligatory ticket entry, from $5 each day to $12 for a three-day pass. The event certainly capitalized on the space provided, introducing more than 330 artists and craftsmen in a structured environment. With its own “Global Food Village,” the festival also gave visitors plenty of choice for a cheeky snack!

However, the festival’s aim to provide a public-friendly setting for the crowd unfortunately fell short. The artists and craftsmen are arranged compactly, which can certainly become overwhelming amongst the community of art-goers fighting to view that next interesting piece. Paying to experience culture in such a packed crowd creates a “fight or flight” atmosphere, but it became enjoyable once one got adjusted to the surroundings.

Ultimately the intimacy of the sardine-like stalls allowed visitors to interact with the exhibiting artists, offering deeper insight to their work. One such artist was John Whipple, the 2008 Winner of Sculpture. His focus in sculpture originated in “the resurrection of the found objects, giving them new life” and so each story is evolved in a fractured way. Whipple said he understands development for any artist as “accumulation of all experiences.” Essentially, you have to put the work in, sticking to deadlines to produce refined work.

This year’s festival portrayed a variety of styles from the many artists and craftsmen, from famed Miami painter Romero Britto to Chris Dahlquist, a Missouri artist specializing in photographic mixed media. The magnitude of the festival as a cultural event in South Florida allowed artists such as Dahlquist to travel to an exotic location like Coconut Grove. With over 150,000 people of all ages in attendance, the artists were guaranteed an opportunity to influence the modern public today, and maybe even sell some of their work.

The latest festival was a great weekend alternative for any student and another example of Miami’s potent local arts scene.

Gemma Dempster may be contacted at g.dempster@umiami.edu.