Coconut Grove Arts Festival 2010

More food. More artists. More space. More social media.

“More” is the word for this weekend’s 47th annual Coconut Grove Art Festival as organizers aim to continue the three-day festival’s trend toward growth despite an economy that doesn’t want to cooperate.

An estimated 150,000 people poured onto the streets of Coconut Grove last President’s Day weekend to peruse paintings, sculptures and mixed-media works by 336 artists from 36 states and three countries.

On Saturday, organizers figure to meet or beat that record number but it won’t come about without much pre-event scrambling and the adoption of new youth-oriented means to spread awareness of a festival that, though still ranked No. 1 by Sunshine Artist Magazine, must attract crowds if it expects to make it to its 50th anniversary.

Reputation aside, staging the arts event “has been challenging with the economy,” says festival president Monty Trainer. Though several key sponsors, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, remain, “there has been a downturn in sponsor participation,” Trainer acknowledged, and some came onboard with reduced rates.

Costs, however, remain high. Trainer said the festival’s price tag approaches $1.5 million, with $166,000 of that going to the city of Miami for security and maintenance. “It’s an inordinate amount of security involved, but the artists want that,” he said.

This year, there will be more artists to protect, too, on the event’s route of McFarlane Road and South Bayshore Drive. To accommodate them, festival organizers leased the Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove so that they could move booths around to fit 360 artists – an increase of 20 from last year.

The artists were selected from a pool of 1,230 applicants from around the country and Canada, including 150 locals, such as Wendy Boucher of Fort Lauderdale, Douglas Adams and Humberto Benitez of Miami and Mike Rose of Aventura. Two juries made the selections.

To bring in more money, Trainer and staff boosted the profile of the Culinary Pavilion this year. “We’re catering more to the families,” he explained.

Chefs include Douglas Rodriguez of his namesake restaurant at the Hotel Astor in Miami Beach, Lucilla Jimenez of Sweet Art by Lucilla and Philippe Pinon of Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove.

Local musicians Spam Allstars, Joe Donato and School of Rock also have more room to perform in Peacock Park, but at a distance to avoid competing with the visual artists for attention.

“The focus is on the artist,” said Katherine Phillips, the festival’s chief operating officer. “We don’t try to bring in headline entertainment. It’s all in the flavor of the Grove, to do a nice balance . . . and not something that detracts from the main goal.”

Once the talent came into place, to pull off another successful festival organizers had to get creative in exposing them. This year, that meant the adoption of the social media site Facebook.

“We’ve had a website forever, but this year Facebook has taken a front role,” said Phillips. “It’s free and an effective way to reach the masses and won’t be hurting our budget … we can’t‚ increase our budget … but with this economy it’s a cool media to use.”

The idea is to build excitement through ticket giveaways, posting of pictures of art and artists and interactive commentary with residents and potential visitors.

Through Wednesday, the festival’s Facebook page had attracted 1,777 fans. That number should grow once the event gets under way as people comment via cellphone applications from the streets.

The night Phillips posted the page, 24 people said they planned to attend the festival, folks like Atena Komar who wrote on the Facebook wall:

“It’s the best festival in the country and only two blocks from my house. That is why
I go on Saturday. I am an artist and love art. My boyfriend loves art, too, so we are spending our Valentine’s at the festival, that is why I go on Sunday. This festival is so huge, it took me two days to see everything and make my picks. That is why I go on

Not surprisingly, that’s precisely what festival organizers want to hear.

“It’s so viral and grows so fast,” Phillips said of the social media presence. The next day she signed onto the Facebook page devoted to the Grove festival and 1,000 people said they were coming. “I love going on there when I have a second to see the comments.
It builds buzz and others let each other know.”

The next step, of course, would be the use of Twitter, which has the potential to reach even more people … but organizers are “not well versed” on it yet, Phillips said.

Homework for next year’s 48th annual fest.


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