Art lovers get ready — the 46th Art Festival Beth-El opens Sunday, January 26. The juried show, hosted by Temple Beth-El in St, Petersburg, is one of the premier venues for artists in the Southeast, offering prizes and prestige to artists who are invited to participate. It’s a wonderful place to see what’s new in the art world from established artists as well as those beginning to make their mark.
“We have about 160 artists participating this year,” said Ann Soble, who serves as one of six co-chairs for the show. “It’s invitational, but interested artists can submit work and we decide who to accept for the exhibition. We have a high homogeneous quality and a high standard for participating artists.”
The show, featuring an outdoor sculpture garden, a boutique gallery and works by artists from both public and private Pinellas County schools, is highly regarded, and brings together an array of talents. Artists from as far away as Washington state compete for the awards, and the purse.
“The art festival has a long history,” said Soble, who has served as a co-chair for more than 25 years. “lt was started by Ellie Argintar and Thelma Rothman as an art sale with art provided by a gallery. When Sonya Miller joined the board, they reached out to local artists instead of using a gallery.”
Soon the exhibit included artists from all over the state, and as financial support increased, committee members began seeking out the best artists from around the country. Now, not only local artists but west coast artists and even a Canadian have had pieces in Art Festival Beth-El.
“Now we attend exhibits when traveling so we can meet and invite national award-winning artists to participate in our show,” said Soble. “We try to have 30-40 percent new artists each year… It keeps the show fresh.”
And that new work keeps collectors and those in the know returning year after year. Some of the local participants have included glass artist Duncan McClellan, painter Elizabeth Barenis, and metal sculptor Dominic Gilbert.
“Because it's a salon setting, artists don’t need to be present to have their work in the show,” Soble added. “They ship work for the exhibit, so they can live anywhere.”
The show is juried, and this year’s judge is Bernice Chu, Executive Director of the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg.
“We often have out-of-town judges, but since Bernice is new to the area we thought she was a good choice for this year’s show,” said Soble.
All of the art is for sale, except the student art, so patrons are eager to see what’s new. While some of the art is high-end, much is in the mid-range, affordable for collectors who want to buy original art from respected artists.
“The highest price paid for a piece was $12,000 for a large metal sculpture,” said Soble. “Paintings can go for $8-10,000, but we also have more affordable works for beginning collectors, in the $1,500 mid-range.”
In addition to the juried art, there is also the Boutique Gallery, where participating artists offer fine arts and crafts for sale. These include jewelry, ceramics and other pieces by artists in the main exhibit.
But wait, there’s even more! The Avenue of Shops also features other crafters and artists selling their wares at highly affordable prices. It’s a great place for gifts, and everything is done by the artists, all original and handmade.
There is also art from local students. Originally, these emerging artists came from Pinellas County Center for the Arts, but as Pinellas county high schools expanded arts curricula, all area schools came into the mix. Now there are 17 public and private schools participating. Winning artists earn financial support for their school art programs.
The $8,000 in prize money awarded the winning artists in the main exhibition was originally endowed by the Sonya and Irwin Miller Art Fund. Funds raised by the festival go to student scholarships, plus other community outreach programs supported by Temple Beth-El.
Despite its size, the show maintains an intimate flavor. While the juried art is inside, the boutique and shops are outside. Docents roam the area to help visitors with questions and directions to specific areas of interest. Over 200 volunteers usually work to bring the event together, and the attendance, which seems to grow each year, numbers as high as 8,000.
“This year we’re adding a new feature,” said Soble. “On Monday we’re having a panel discussion at 11 a.m. about the business of art, because we think it’s important with so many artists in the community.”
The panel will be led by Kevin Lane of freeFall Theater, with Bob Devin Jones and Barbara Mazer Gross of The [email protected], artist Chad Mize, and Daryl Thetford, a Chatanooga artist. The panel open to all and, following, you can attend a gourmet luncheon ($20).
For those who wish to donate and purchase art, there;s a Saturday reception from 1-4 p.m. for patrons giving $500, which will go toward a purchase. A second reception follows at 6 p.m. for benefactors contributing $200 toward an art purchase, and at 7 p.m. $35 will get you into a cocktail reception. But everyone can attend for free Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Monday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.