Inverness, artists changing direction of Festival of the Arts | Local News

Barbara Merkley

The Festival of the Arts is taking a glance backward in time as its city organizers are laying out its path forward and the future.

Saturday and Sunday will reflect the city’s efforts to host the festival in a way similar to how it was organized earlier in its existence. The festival will now host only makers of fine art and no longer offer crafts; something that the festival incorporated only years later.

But festival organizers said it’s also time to expand the festival and offer new activities and venues.

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The festival will include a free interactive art area for children and live music entertainment. The festival this year will also incorporate the Valerie Theatre for the first time by showing animated films created by students at the Lecanto School of the Arts. The Valerie will also host an interactive art installation.

Inverness is also having a mural painted during the festival for the city’s downtown. The mural will be by Christian Stanley, an artist based in Orlando. He began the mural this week and the city hopes to attract people to watch the art being created.   

Mural 2.jpg

Christian Stanley uses a scissor lift Thursday, Nov. 18, to help accomplish his mural project that will reach 22 feet in height when complete.

This weekend’s event will be the 50th anniversary of the festival, first hosted in 1971. The festival, in its current format, was cancelled in 2020 and an abbreviated version was held at Liberty Park because of social distancing.

There will be $8,500 in prize money for the artists. Of that, the city will buy $2,000 in art from two artists and display it in the Inverness government center. That will be part of the city’s new effort to support and market the art community and fine arts.

The reorganization of the festival with a focus on fine arts, and the city’s expansion of the event, along with buying and displaying art, is meant to send a message, said Pamela Zeljak, Inverness’ art consultant.

“It helps artists and art organizations in the community know that the city values the arts,” Zeljak told the Chronicle. “(And) it makes art assessable to a greater (audience).”

Zeljak said returning to a focus on fine arts and expanding the festival is only possible because of the work of volunteer committees and people who remember and helped create the festival years ago.

Mural 4.jpg

Christian Stanley paints a primer onto a stucco wall on the side of Coach’s Pub and Eatery Thursday, Nov. 18, in downtown Inverness.

She also said people who are not knowledgeable about fine art shouldn’t be intimidated about coming to the event.

“You don’t have to know anything about art,” Zeljak told the Chronicle. “You don’t have to be an artsy kind of person to enjoy the festival.”

“All the artists travel around to festivals and are used to talking to folks who may be (attending) for the first time,” she said.

The festival will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 20 and Nov. 21, at 1 Courthouse Square, Inverness. There will be at least 50 artists participating in the event that’s free to the public. There will also be food and drink vendors.

The decision to focus on fine arts was based on the fact that there are already ample festivals that offer crafts, Zeljak said.

“We wanted to return to the roots of the festival,” she said.

Zeljak said she’s not concerned that focusing on fine arts and no longer allowing crafts will reduce festival attendance.

Meanwhile, the festival will hopefully draw more people, families, and children by offering new events, such as the free children’s art activity area where children will be encouraged to participate in creating Thanksgiving arts and crafts, rock painting, and face painting.

Liz Fernley, director of marketing, events and cultural arts, said the festival will also incorporate music at the Valerie Theatre, including a classical violinist and a pop and rock band.

The Valerie will also host an interactive art installation. To learn more about the installation, visit the city’s website at

The festival will again be in the city’s downtown, allowing visitors to be closer to downtown shops and restaurants, Fernley said.

Sandy Levin, art show committee volunteer, helped put the festival together many years ago.

“What we’ve tried to do now is go back and find the history of the art festival from the original people involved … to capture for our 50th anniversary how it started and how it was run … the true origination and spirit of the festival,” Levin said.

“It was the social occasion of the year when everyone in the community participated,” she said.

People came to both days of the event to see and meet artists, but also catch up with neighbors and friends, she said.

School bands and choir groups would also perform at the festivals, she said.

Zeljak said the hope is to get the community involved and make the festival an attraction that they can support.

“Our goal is to celebrate the arts community and bring the community together around the arts,” she said, “and we want to make it big and amazing.”

One of the artists hoping for the festival’s success is Chuck Tripp of Citrus County.

Tripp makes three-dimensional metal artwork, typically of nature scenes and animals.

Chuck Tripp

Chuck Tripp, of Crystal River, dislays works in progress that he will take to the Inverness Festival of the Arts.

Tripp, 69, had lost his job at a lumber company during the Great Recession in 2008. Before that he had worked with metal making automated machines and custom gates.

Out of a job, Tripp made seven pieces of art.

“I sold them all in one week and made $1,000 and said to myself there’s got to be something to this,” he told the Chronicle.

The Inverness Festival of the Arts was the first show Tripp participated in 10 years ago.

Now Tripp almost sells out of the pieces he brings to shows

He said he enjoys talking to visitors who look at his art and answers their questions.

Many of his customers tell him what they want and he makes it to their specifications, Tripp said. And if they don’t like it they don’t have to buy it.

Marti Estep of Inverness will also be an artist at the festival. Before retiring, she was an art therapist for 15 years and social worker.

“I love to create,” she said. “So painting is what motivates me.”

Marti Estep

Marti Estep, of Inverness, displays a work in progress that she’ll be taking to the Festival of the Arts.  

Selling her art helps defray her costs and makes room to create more, she said.

“And it makes me happy to know my art is making someone happy,” she said.

She enjoys attending festivals because her art is seen, but it also motivates her to finish more work, she said.

“I already sold two pieces posting them on Facebook (about the festival),” she said. “I wouldn’t have done it if not for the festival.”

“It’s also very reinforcing when people see and appreciate what I do,” she said.

The festival and its changes also has political support.

“I love the direction the city is going in during the last couple of years,” said Inverness Mayor Bob Plaisted.

“I think we’re on a new trajectory,” he said of the festival. “I’m excited about that.”

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