Feeling ‘Fine’

The Ocala Arts Festival will bring in more than 150 noted artists from around the nation as it showcases a wide variety of artworks, including pieces by local students.

On the last weekend of October, the Horse Capital of the World will become the Art Capital of the World. That is when the Ocala Arts Festival will take over several city blocks in downtown Ocala.  

The festival has gained a reputation for the quality of the works on display, the diverse range of artists who participate and the added components that make this one of our area’s best loved annual events. This year’s event, the 56th annual, on October 28th & 29th, will bring in 155 artists from around the country. 

The power behind the festival is the Fine Arts For Ocala (FAFO) nonprofit organization, which was formed in 1966 by local residents. In 1988, the group started Symphony Under The Stars, the annual Mother’s Day tradition that helps fund the art festival.

Lego Flowers with Lichtenstein; photo courtesy of Dennis Angel

In addition to perusing  the artists’ wares, including paintings, photography, sculpture, jewelry and more, festival patrons can enjoy entertainment on two stages, visit downtown eateries and businesses, shop a variety of vendors, see art created by local students and engage in art activities for children, presented by the College of Central Florida’s Appleton Museum of Art. This year’s featured artist is Dennis Angel. 

Participating artists will compete for $27,000 in awards, selected by two prestigious judges. The prizes include $5,000 for Best in Show; two Awards of Excellence at $2,500 each; seven Awards of Distinction at $1,000 each; and 10 Awards of Merit at $500 each. In the Emerging Artists category, six entrants will be given $1,000 each in amenities, courtesy of the David & Lisa Midgett Foundation. 

The chair of this year’s festival is Teddy Sykes, with co-chair Ryan Andrew Neumann. Both are artists and FAFO board members. 

“We’re really looking forward to seeing everyone come out this year. We have an incredible team who has put in a lot of work to make this one of the best festivals yet,” offers Sykes. “We have an all-star lineup of artists and, in addition to that, I really think visitors are going to like many of the new features we are adding to this year’s event. It’s going to be a great time.”

The open container aspect of the festival, which debuted in 2022, will return this year. That means attendees can purchase an alcoholic beverage at an establishment within the event zone and carry it with them as they walk around. 

Nectarines with Degas; photo courtesy of Dennis Angel

“We hope our downtown businesses see increased patronage and revenue from this policy,” notes FAFO Administrative Coordinator Ashley Morgan.

The activities will include a scavenger hunt, in which festivalgoers can visit businesses to hunt for a pink flamingo and fill their “passport” as they vote for their favorite window display, courtesy of Ocala Main Street and the city of Ocala’s Cultural Arts Division. 

There will be opportunities throughout the event zone for children to draw, paint, or create chalk art. Student art will be displayed at Citizens’ Circle, which is also where attendees can see student singing and dance groups. Bands and solo musicians will perform at the gazebo in the heart of the downtown square. 

Among the many tents that will “blossom” around downtown will be those housing the emerging artists and the featured artist.

“For me, the emerging artist tents are the most anticipated feature of the festival. I love to see people exercising their artistic agency and recognizing their own potential. We at FAFO are doing our best to help these wonderful humans become more visible,” says Neumann. “It’s all about elevating and celebrating the ones really doing the work. I am also very excited to see what the young creators have made this year for the student art competition.”

Featured artist Angel has degrees from Indiana University, the University of Oklahoma and the Parsons School of Design. His resume includes lengthy lists of solo and group exhibits, grants and awards, and publications and reviews. This will be his third year participating in the Ocala Arts Festival.

“My experience with the festival has been extremely positive,” he notes. “The FAFO staff and volunteers are amazing. The artists’ amenities are excellent as well: Easy setup, booth sitters and a wonderful artist award dinner on Saturday night are some highlights. While Ocala is one of the smaller venues I exhibit in, the art patrons are very informed and enthusiastic. I am so pleased to return as the featured artist.”

Featured artist Dennis Angel; photo courtesy of Dennis Angel

As for his style, Angel offers, “My drawings are all originals using colored pencils on a smooth museum quality watercolor paper. My imagery focuses on the still life genre, always with a focus on or reference to great artists of the past.”

Angel believes that “having art in one’s life is essential” and that the festival is an important connection between patron and artist.

“Today, in some ways we are so interconnected with social media but in many respects find ourselves very isolated. With art we can feel connected in a very personal way. This is because artmaking in any form or medium remains one of our most human activities. This is what makes the art festival so special,” he explains. “Unlike an art gallery or a museum, the patron can meet the artist, ask questions and learn about the artist’s techniques and concepts. If they purchase a piece of work and place it in their home, they will always have a very powerful connection with that artist and his or her creation.” 

The Ocala Fine Arts Festival is free to attend. The hours are 10am-5pm Saturday and Sunday. OS

To learn more, go to fafo.org

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