At the close of 2013’s festival, I was grateful to have something to add to my resume, but couldn’t decide whether to renew my commitment. I felt underutilized, while weary from the long days of eating badly and standing on my feet. Having to be present was the greatest challenge, not the work itself.
This year, I joined a different facet of the volunteer effort: festival marketing.
After this weekend’s whirlwind, I’m glad I stayed.
Since September, I’ve manned the social media for the festival, and been backup for media purchases and press inquiries. The role is a natural fit for me, as I do many of the same tasks at my day job.
The contrast was surprising though, both from last year’s experience, and from daily work in government. There is a lot more energy around a large scale public event, and interaction with the public is far more enjoyable with something 99% of people can and do enjoy. The content decisions were left to me, and I used my best judgement to build a curated presence of singular voice. I knew it was important to be responsive, and approachable.
Part of being the gatekeeper of social media and press is facilitating others’ interactions, too. I’m perfectly happy in the background.
The two-day event was a 10+ IMO. Tampa’s weather was perfect, not a word I use lightly, and though no artwork spoke to me, I had some pleasant conversations with artists. My favorite was a jeweler from Michigan named Aaron Sault (see below). His metal work is intricate and original, on par with niche designers sold at Barney’s and SSENSE. He told me that we treat our artists better than any other show he’s been to. Not surprising since we have an entire committee dedicated to Artists’ Hospitality.
Thanks to generous community support and sponsorship, we awarded nearly $75,000 in prize money to artists this year, through a streamlined jury process also facilitated by volunteers.
The GFA has diversified itself over the years, both in art genres and festival elements. This year there was more entertainment (opera singers!), additional activity in Kiley Gardens (Carmada, PODS), and a host of food and snack vendors.
Saturday evening brought galaRE:, an event dedicated to award-winners and patrons of the arts in Tampa. I was mostly interested in the sleek black Ferrari FF on display.
In an unpaid role with an all-volunteer organization, you find those others with meticulous organization quickly. The festival is maintained by a handful of strong leaders, among the expected collateral chaos and a yearbook of previously-involved parties, who each had a different way of approaching their jobs. At almost 50 years old, GFA has a lot of institutional baggage that can be hard for a newcomer to understand.
What shines through and has obviously wooed so many before me is a sense of pride in putting on such a grand showcase. And it is improving every year.