The scene has been described as a sea of galleries. The white tents lined up neatly along Donnelly Street, Fifth Avenue, and beyond offer thousands of visitors an up-close view of stunning artwork created by some of the most talented artists in the United States.
From New Mexico, Michigan, and all along the East and West Coasts, the artists—285 in all—converge on downtown Mount Dora for one weekend every winter. Their mission is to sell to art aficionados and casual admirers alike, and compete for the festival’s top cash prizes. The picturesque town overlooking Lake Dora has been the backdrop of this event for more than 30 years.
Photo by Marc Vaughn
“In 1975, a core group of art-loving citizens put this event together out of a shoebox,” says Christina Padgett, executive co-chairwoman for the Mount Dora Center for the Arts. “They were interested in improving the cultural climate of the community, and today, it’s one of the largest outdoor art festivals in the country. We had 300,000 people attend last year.”
This premier, regional, and free event offers something for everyone, Christina adds. Patrons can find a beautiful watercolor exhibit next to a tent with jewelry, sculpture, or glass work on display. In all, nearly 1,000 artists from across the U.S. applied for a coveted spot in the festival’s line-up. The Mount Dora Center purposely limited the final group to 285 again this year, or else admirers would not have enough time to see it all.
Nor would the judges. Three highly trained jurors will make the rounds Saturday morning to critique each artist’s work and determine who will take home the $21,000 in prize money. A special awards presentation follows on Sunday morning. Careful to protect their anonymity, Christina can only say that one judge is from a leading New York art gallery, another is from the Florida Museum of Art, and the third is a curator renowned for her award-winning editorials on exhibitions across the country.
“Our judges are really outstanding this year,” she says.
Improvements have been made to the festival’s overall layout as well, so that pedestrian traffic will be as smooth as possible. Additionally, shuttle service between festival parking at Mount Dora High School, Spinner’s Billiards, and Christian Home and Bible School and the downtown area will be offered for a small fee. Patrons who arrive early, though, may be able to find parking within walking distance.
Some loyal attendees make their reservations at one of Mount Dora’s quaint bed and breakfasts as early as one year in advance. Considering the tight economy, the buying public can expect prices to suit any budget.
Of course, art isn’t the only thing to enjoy during the two-day festival. Live music fills the downtown streets daily, and two food courts keep guests well-fed throughout the day. A pair of children’s art stations will also be open for sand art and face-painting. Donnelly Park with its shade trees and green spaces is an ideal place for families and couples to sit awhile during the day-long activities.
“It is a true family event that is free and completely enlightening,” Christina says. Visitors can pick up an event guide at the information booth—it has a detailed map that lists the location of all the artists, the music schedule, and more.
For patrons who attend both days, the event guide is helpful in locating an artist they saw on the first day and want to revisit on the second. Not surprisingly, revisiting is a common theme for the 34-year-old festival.
“Once you attend this event,” Christina says, “you will want to come back every year.”
WANT TO GO?
34th Annual Mount Dora Art Festival
February 7-8, 9am-5pm
Downtown Mount Dora
No admission charge