The Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, a beloved community tradition and one of the nation’s most prestigious outdoor art festivals, is the latest in a long line of events that have gone virtual as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Held annually in March since its debut in 1960, the 62nd Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival will feature a virtual event from March 15 through 31, with the in-person festival rescheduled for May 14 through 16.
The decision to go virtual was primarily made to accommodate the festival’s artists, many of whom made a living from traveling around the art festival circuit and selling their work at events. Those artists took a large financial hit when the coronavirus outbreak forced the cancellation of the 2020 Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival in addition to other events on the circuit. As COVID-19 continued to be a major health concern going into 2021, the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival Board took both public safety and the artists’ livelihoods into consideration and opted to postpone the live event but host an interim virtual festival so artists could still get exposure and make sales.
“[The artists] travel from all over and they’re all different ages. Many of them were hesitant and nervous about attending an in-person festival in March,” explained Laura Fogleman, co-president of the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival Board. “We made the decision that at least [a virtual festival] would help them do something.” The virtual festival will have a preview of this year’s accepted artists and give patrons the opportunity to shop in advance at their online storefronts.
Hosting a virtual festival in March will also allow for exhibits like the Leon Theodore Schools Exhibit to take place. The Schools Exhibit, which showcases student artists from approximately 100 different schools, would not have been able to participate in the in-person festival in May, when the school year ends for most students. “This is something that’s really important to the kids. I think that especially with being homeschooled and school being so hectic this year, to have this is a really cool platform,” Fogleman said. As in previous years, students from middle and high schools will have their works judged by a panel of professional artists and will receive awards.
The Children’s Workshop, another traditional aspect of the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, will also be included as part of the virtual festival. Traditionally, participating museums and community partners provide hands-on activities for children. This year, parents can pick up “goodie bags” with supplies and materials for kids to complete the activities, which include S.T.E.M. projects as well as arts and crafts, and will be available to them online.
Because the children’s events will not be taking place during the live festival in May, nor will the concert that’s usually held on the first night of the weekend, there will be more space available in the park to allow for adequate social distancing. Artist tents will be staggered and spread 10 feet apart, and walkways will be expanded to 12 feet wide.
“The City [of Winter Park] has been fabulous about working with us to move the festival around. It takes a lot of things to fall into place to make an event like this happen, but the community has just been very receptive and kind, and we are really grateful for that,” Fogleman said.
Produced by an all-volunteer board, the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival draws more than 350,000 visitors and artists from across the country every year. Artists compete for awards totaling nearly $75,000, with the Best of Show piece purchased by the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival Board and donated to the City of Winter Park.