Downtown Festival and Art Show a boost for downtown

Vendors and downtown businesses welcome 100,000 attendees

The Downtown Festival and Art Show has been a part of Gainesville for the past 33 years. Each year the festival attracts an estimated 100,000 people, who walk the brick streets of downtown perusing works by artists from around the country.  That means big business for vendors as well as local establishments.

Inside the rows of white tents that line the streets are paintings, pictures, sculptures, handmade jewelry and many other items from over 240 different artists.

There are vendors who see the festival as an opportunity to sell art and make money. For others, the money is nice, but the real thrill is being able to showcase their unique artwork.

Tony Kassebaum is the latter.

Kassebaum, who splits his time between Boulder City, Nevada and Florida, has been coming to Gainesville since 2004 for the art festival and the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire.

According to Kassebaum, he doesn’t come to art shows for the money. He likes to talk about his experiences and exhibit his skill.

His booth features small, intricate pieces of metal carved by his own hands.

While most of his work is related to pirate ships or skulls, he will sell the occasional bracelet made of alligator and boa constrictor skin.

“These are made from the big boys,” Kassebaum said.

The items he’s made sit on his handmade stand that resembles a pirate ship. He’s been building it and breaking it down while on the road since 1991. Recently, he has started replacing the table’s supports because they are finally starting to wear down.

Florida is one of the few places left where an artist can make a living by selling his or her artwork, according to Kassebaum. It’s one of the reasons he has spent so much time in Florida over the years.

Selling artwork at shows and festivals across the country is not an easy thing to do. Artists put time, effort and money into their work and travel with no guarantee that they will sell enough merchandise to make a profit.

Greg and B.J. Jordan from Fort Wayne, Indiana can attest to that. The couple spends about 25 weekends a year traveling to different cities to attend various events.

They’ve made the trip south to Gainesville for the Downtown Festival and Art Show for the past 23 years, and they’ve sold their art together for the past 32 years.

“You have to love what you do in life, or you’ll be miserable”, B.J. said.

The couple’s love for creating unique art and showcasing it, is what has kept them on the road all these years, but things may be changing.

According to Greg, making jewelry just isn’t as lucrative as it was in the past. There is too much competition today, he said.

Nowadays the couple often has trouble getting into the big events where there is good money to be made. They are often faced with applying for one of 20-30 spots – along with hundreds of others artists just like them, according to the couple.

Greg does admit that it is not all about the money.

“We get by,” said Jordan. “We’re not making six figures, but I’m not complaining.”

According to Linda Piper, who is the Downtown Festival and Art Show event coordinator, said the event was expected to attract even more than the expected 100,000 visitors.

“I expect a record number in attendance,” Piper said. There was a huge increase from last year because the weather was better so more people came out.”

She added that the influx of people is great for businesses in downtown Gainesville and added that all the local businesses support and look forward to the event because it brings a boom in business.

Lance Norton, the general manager at Sweet Mel’s, which is located in the heart of downtown Gainesville, agreed.

“This weekend was busy from open to close,” Norton said. “We appreciate that.”

On Saturday Sweet Mel’s opened an hour early for the football game and was at half capacity five minutes later he said.

He said the arts festival brings attention to the downtown area, which is great for businesses in the area.

“A lot of people miss out on what we have to offer because they go to Archer Road,” Norton said. “We look forward to this event every year.”

The good news for Sweet Mel’s and other downtown businesses, is next year’s event is already set. It will take place November 14-15, 2015.

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