For as long as I can remember, Gasparilla has been a tradition, in my family, for my friends, and in Tampa.
As a kid, it was about brisk January weather, catching beads from pirates and floats on my dad’s shoulders, and soaking up action and adventure on a day when South Tampa is packed with 100,000 people. It is often compared to the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, though it has a distinct Spanish-Caribbean flavor with a focus on pirates, booty, wooden ships, and cannons.
Since its inception nearly a century ago, Gasparilla as a brand has expanded to include a number of events during the winter and spring. The Children’s Parade kicks off the festivities, followed by the main Daytime Parade, the Sant’Yago Knight Parade in Ybor City, the Distance Classic (5k, 10k, and half marathon), and the Art, Film, and Music Festivals.
This year, I partook in about half of the total Gasparilla events. I was involved for the first time in the planning of the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts (GFA), a 280-artist jurored art show that takes place in Curtis Hixon Park Downtown. Since August 2012, the logistics, supplies, and artists were decided on and ironed out, for a seamless weekend of showing, buying, and selling.
My involvement meant attending monthly planning meetings, taking minutes and organizing festival documents, manning the festival ‘HQ’ and providing miscellaneous help and troubleshooting during the show weekend itself. A lot of work for a 40-person crew of pure volunteers, but a lesson for me in responsibility, reliability, and dedication to a quality event. No other art show competes on depth and breadth of artists and skill levels in the area (my unbiased opinion).
I even found a little piece for myself from a New Orleans artist. Great little original painting of a jellyfish for an approachable $50. Mr. Nozero’s use of color is similar to the palette you see in the neighborhoods of the Crescent City, which can be very bright and colorful, I assume a descendant of creole-Caribbean roots.
I didn’t get a chance to enjoy the other events, but saw them from afar – the music festival is the youngest of the traditions, but is quickly building a following locally and regionally. It also takes place in Curtis Hixon Park.
Taken wholly, the Gasparilla brand makes Tampa unique, and gives it cultural legitimacy. It is exciting, and inviting, bringing transplants into the fold as much as it maintains tradition and lineage. It makes me proud to have a landmark set of events that don’t happen anywhere else in the world, in quite the same fashion.