Gainesville held its 41st annual Downtown Festival & Art Show last weekend, continuing the city’s long-held tradition of highlighting local artists, performers and vendors.
Located on the streets surrounding Bo Diddley Plaza, this year’s festival ran from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Despite chilly air and light rain, hundreds of attendees crowded the event, navigating tents that each housed different trinkets and talents — from handmade aprons and jewelry to circus-like performances.
Chelsea Carnes, the festival’s director, said the event had been in the works since last spring.
The large festival turnout nicely complemented the increase in energy the event’s more than 200 artists, live performances and culinary talents contributed to, Carnes said.
“There were moments where the festival really felt like a straight up street party,” she said.
The liveliness of the festival was enough to attract people that didn’t originally intend on attending like Haley Fox.
The 27-year-old UF medical student originally stopped by the festival to get coffee, she said, but ultimately decided to stay longer.
“I had heard about the art festival.” she said. “I didn’t expect it to be so huge, so I was interested.”
Like Fox, many festival attendees decided to stick around to observe local artists’ work. Among these creators was Elvia Paucar, a 52-year-old Peruvian woman, who uses a traditional pedal loom and wool-based textiles to create blankets and accessories.
Paucar credited her love of loom work to her parents, whose involvement in crafts was greatly influenced by her upbringing in the Andes region of Peru. The Downtown Festival & Art Show has been a great opportunity for her to share this cultural experience with others, she said.
“I love meeting many international artists from different places,” said Paucar, her fiancé Marc Rose translated. “People over the public can learn about our culture.”
While last November marked the festival’s return to an in-person celebration following a virtual showcase spurred by the pandemic, it still faced a series of COVID-19 restrictions. Less artists and social distancing changed much of the festival experience.
For Lynn Polke, owner of the Rainbow Tiger Circus, this year’s festival has been more enjoyable than it was in the past, due to more relaxed restrictions.
“Last year, we were still a bit standoffish from people,” she said. “And this year, I'm really noticing people want to have fun [...] That's what I really like to do with this show.”
Creatives like PeTika Tave similarly expressed excitement about interacting with attendees face-to-face.
Tave, a 42-year-old author, is the founder of BayaBooks and More, which is a publishing company that features books about diversity. She and her 12-year-old daughter Zandria have experienced positive in-person interactions this year especially, she said.
“We’ve had adults just in tears because of how touched they have been with the books,” Tave said. “You don’t get that when you purchase online.”
Hailing from Jacksonville, Tave and her daughter made the trip to Gainesville for the weekend to showcase their work at the festival.
Leah Jamison, the 64-year-old owner of An Apron Story, a handmade apron business, traveled from Clermont, Florida, with her daughter to sell her own creations at the festival. Both Jamison and her daughter appreciate the clientele Gainesville has brought them, Jamison said.
“There's a certain thing about the people in Gainesville,” she said. “They're more locals, and they like aprons, so we like them.”
Gainesville residents like 17-year-old Heather Frank and her mother Kathryn have reciprocated this appreciation as longtime festival attendees.
“We’ve lived here in Gainesville since 2009,” Kathryn said. “We used to come and [Heather] would go to the part where kids do art.”
It’s been nostalgic coming back to the festival this year, Heather said. “It’s interesting to see what recurs,” she said. “Like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that booth before.’”
To residents like Eliana Gallagher, a 19-year-old UF English junior, performing on ukulele at the festival has become a tradition. It’s been seven years since she started, she said.
“It's really nice when people take the time to stop and listen because they don't have to,” she said.
Contact Halima at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @HalimaAttah.
Halima Attah is a first-year journalism student at UF and the opinion editor for The Alligator. You can find some of her other work on her podcast, “A Little Perspective,” on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.