PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. – After temporarily shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic this spring, the Gulfport First Art Walk, a 25-year-plus institution in the city, returns tonight.
Between 5 and 8 p.m., the revamped event will showcase area artists set up outside various businesses along Beach Boulevard. What was once a market-style event is now a themed and juried art show. This month’s theme is “Metamorphosis: Art for Hope and Healing.”
Organized by the Gulfport Merchants Chamber, the goal is to safely draw visitors back to Gulfport and “bring together the arts community with the healing theme in mind,” said James Briggs, a member of the chamber’s board of directors. “It is designed as sort of a healing event. The artists are providing a narrative in addition to the visual submissions about their journey (during the pandemic.)”
Barbara McMahon, a chamber board member, gallery owner and art walk organizer, said, “Artists are communicators, yet we are more visceral and emotive than mental. Our ideas begin in the mind, but they are filtered through the heart and expressed through the hand. Just as the earth cleanses ocean waters through its filters of brooks and rivers, art ideas have a similar filter system in culture. When conversations are expressed through mediums of paint, clay, steel and glass, they ‘cleanse’ the conversation away from judgment and toward understanding. Art walks provide the forum for the dialogue to delve deeper, reach further and expand. This is not about agreeing, rather about stretching, softening and breathing, all of which opens us up to perhaps see a perspective that was hidden by mere words.”
Gulfport Art Walk got its start in the early 1990s when the city was a much different place. At the time, there were only a handful of artists, shops and restaurants, said Maurice Loeb, owner of Sumitra Espresso Lounge and a jeweler who helped found art walk and the chamber.
When the event first launched, “the vision was that you could walk the streets of Gulfport, particularly Beach Boulevard, and see the artists at work,” he said. “You could walk into any store and see the artists doing their job.”
Over the years, art walk changed a bit, welcoming other types of vendors as well. Now, it’s going back to its roots, Loeb said. “The movement now is to get the artists back, to put them in the limelight, make the art walk about them, to bring the (event) title to its original understanding of what it was designed for.”
The chamber also revamped its third Saturday event as the Gulfport’s Third Saturday IndieFaire Night Market. In the past, there “wasn’t a lot of separation between the first Friday and third Saturday events,” Briggs said. “They’re very distinct events not, where before they became a hybrid of each other.”
Now, the IndieFaire event is “more of a festival of the arts, but still hyper local with a focus on local artists,” he said.
The chamber has also brought back its weekly Tuesday Fresh Market, which features produce and other vendors.
For more information, check out visitgulfportflorida.com.