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A lot of deja vue at 51st Coconut Grove Arts Festival

What would happen if the Coconut Grove Arts Festival (CGAF) told all of its participating artists from previous years to take a vacation, and mounted a show consisting solely of first-time exhibitors?

Alchemist, an encaustic by Patricia DeLeon-Alfonso of Miami, FL
© 2014 George Leposky
Guitarist, by James LaCasse of Denver, CO.
© 2014 George Leposky

I began to wonder as I strolled the length of the 2014 show, which attracted some 150,000 art aficionados to view the creations of more than 380 participating artists during the 2014 Presidents’ Day weekend, February 15-17.

The event also included three days of live musical entertainment on a stage in Peacock Park, a culinary pavilion with food demonstrations and lectures, and a food court.

Veterans and newbies

Every fifth or sixth booth seemed to display works by a familiar artist whom I had interviewed in previous years. Some of them showed new work, others a mix of old and new. Indeed, if I had wished to put together a slide show for this year consisting entirely of works that I photographed in previous years, I could have done it.

This is both good and bad. On the one hand, returning artists and the selection committee that chooses them year after year seem comfortable with the arrangement. Their previous participation helps to validate their continuing inclusion, and they want to keep coming back because they have built a following over the years and presumably make a profit.

On the other hand, the 60-plus “veterans” in the show occupy booths that 60-plus exciting new artists who might otherwise meet the selection committee’s standards are precluded from occupying.

A new category in 2014, New & Emerging Artists, featured five artists aged 18 to 29 years who displayed their work for the first time at an outdoor fine arts festival. Among them in Abdiel Acosta of Miami, whose Aspidochelone (a drawing of a mythological sea turtle with an island on its back) appears in my accompanying slideshow. Acosta is a Marielito who came to the U.S. from Cuba as a child on a small boat. This experience influenced the maritime character of much of his work, he confides.

The New & Emerging Artists program is a good start. The CGAF should find other ways to let additional qualified artists gain exposure.

Stature at risk?

Now in its 51st year, the CGAF has grown from a “clothes-line” art show featuring a dozen local artists into the nation’s largest and one of the highest-ranked outdoor fine art events.

Familiarity may not inevitably breed contempt, but it can breed staleness. To maintain its stature and continue attracting its audience, the CGAF selection committee should take another look at its entry criteria, perhaps borrowing from the political realm the concept of term limits.

Just as many elected officials are limited in the number of terms they can occupy a particular office, so perhaps the perennial CGAF participants should be required to take a year or several off before being allowed to return.

Slideshow choices

For every past CGAF review since 2009, I’ve prepared a slideshow highlighting art from the Coconut Grove Arts Festival that I would buy for my own collection, given unlimited funds and display space. I’ve always looked for artists whose work I haven’t featured before. This time I made a point of doing so. Enjoy.

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