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Winterfest a boon for regional artists

HOLMES BEACH — Artists say the poor economy has forced them to be even more creative to make a living.

“The changed economy for us (artists) meant we had to rethink our art,” said Bradenton artist Martha Bennington. “A couple of years ago I would sell pieces priced at $200, $300, $500, but now I have some in the $20-$30 range.”

Many are hoping that will help make the 22nd annual Winterfest fine arts festival a success this weekend.

Winterfest will feature more than 106 artists from around the country. Hours are 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. today and Sunday in the field behind Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

All of the artwork is original and will include paintings, glass work, jewelry, pottery, sculpture, fiber arts, photography, wood art and more, said Joyce Karp, director of the Anna Maria Island Art League, which is organizing the event.

Winterfest and Springfest are the major fundraising events for the art league.

“They allow us to put on our programs,” she said, “but at the same time as a not-for-profit, it is part of our mission to support art and artists, and this fits that mission.”

Lori Kay Olling, a St. Petersburg artist who has been coming to Winterfest for the past four years, says it is a well-run festival and attracts quality artists.

She, like Bennington, says people come to the show to buy, but cannot always buy a $3,000 oil painting.

She realized the economy was changing, so she changed her marketing strategy in time.

Where she used to do one-of-a-kind pieces, she now produces limited editions of her sterling silver and copper jewelry pieces, and prices them from $20 to $500.

“That’s how I’ve been able to keep my head above the line,” Olling said. “I’ve seen a lot of good artists not coming to shows anymore,” because they did not adapt.

Bennington, who recycles common items, such as dominoes, into whimsical painted jewelry pieces, has pieces for $18-$24.

“People are thinking harder about the more expensive purchases,” she said, yet they still spend about $100 after buying four or five pieces.

Tim Smith, who does wood-turned pieces in his St. Petersburg workshop, said the Winterfest venue is great for him because he has time to talk with visitors, unlike at larger shows where thousands of people just walk by.

“It’s better for sales,” Smith said. “So much today is like ‘press 1 for English,’ and more impersonal.” When you have time to chat with the customer, they are more receptive to buying, he said.

Along with the art, Winterfest will feature entertainment, including the Gumbo Boogie Band, the Anna Maria String Band, KoKo Ray and the Hurricanes.

There will be food booths featuring local restaurants and several community groups will have booths to promote their activities, such as Wildlife Rescue, which will have some of their animals there.

For the children, there is the Young at Art children’s art exhibit and a youth art activity area.

For more information, visit the art league’s Web site at www.islandartleague.org.

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