Cultivating Culture in Tampa Bay

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Copy of Mschuhmann-SAT_233 GMF at night along the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.  Photo by Michael Schuhmann


The cultural happenings of music and movies as Gasparilla celebrations continue to cultivate the arts.

By Mary Lou Janson




Live music and independent films are the focus of two of Tampa’s major annual festivals that fly under the Gasparilla flag and keep the city’s traditional pirate-themed party going through March; but fun and entertainment are just part of what the Gasparilla Music Festival and Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF), are all about.

Events that started with a staged pirate invasion and celebratory parade, have expanded under the Gasparilla banner to include a nighttime parade, a two-day event for casual to world class runners and an outdoor art festival that draws hundreds of artists and hundreds of thousands of attendees over a weekend. Ten years ago the film festival premiered here. Five years later, the music festival was added to the event line-up.

Without the blast of cannon fire or a barrage of beads, these newcomers are nicely impacting Tampa’s image as a city that, not only celebrates, but also cultivates the arts.


Gasparilla Music Festival

Fifth generation Tampa native, David Cox, recalls conversations shared over drinks with friends and business associates who debated what industries should be courted to fuel Tampa’s economy, as well as, what type of events could energize this community and kick up its cool factor.

It took the all-volunteer group made up of some 80 like-minded individuals, drawn from all walks of life, an estimated 18 months to plan, fund, organize and implement the inaugural Gasparilla Music Festival. The timing proved ideal due to downtown Tampa’s newly developed Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, which provided a perfect urban setting, for the festival to feature its mix of local talent and nationally recognized headliners.


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“We knew we could do a signature event there. Having that as our venue was a huge part of our success,” Cox said. “It is the only place in the world with panoramic views of the University of Tampa, the cylindrical Sykes building, the Tampa Museum of Art and downtown. No where else in the world has a stretch of riverfront like ours.”


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As attendance climbs and tickets sell out, organizers hope to broaden the event’s appeal by offering an even more diverse musical mix. This year, a new stage located in downtown Tampa’s MacDill Park, will be devoted to an all Latin music line-up on March 13.

“That music is a part of Tampa’s culture and we want to showcase it more this year,” said Cox. “We want to be Tampa-focused and serve this community. We want to try to stay eclectic while letting the event continue to evolve.”

As the festival’s executive director, a position Cox filled in August to carry on the work Ty Rodriguez had handled for the previous two years, he oversees year-round activities that include  collecting and distributing donated musical instruments to local schools and providing paying gigs for local talent at various venues, including the city’s streetcars where passengers can enjoy live music on select dates.


Gasparilla Music Fest board of directors 2016Founding Board Members of the Gasparilla Music Festival:
FRONT – (L-R): Ty Rodriguez, Jamie Zinober, Aydin Keskiner, David Cox
BACK – (L-R): Paul Dolcimascolo, Jeff Hunt, Phil Benito, John Wakefield, Carter Henderson



While the focus will still remain on enhancing Tampa’s image through the festival and supporting aspiring musicians with roots here, Cox feels there is potential to grow to 100,000 in attendance by its 10th year, a goal that would require more room and a longer run.

“Bigger is not necessarily better and we still want to keep it a great event,” said Cox. “We don’t have the answers yet, but we are constantly exploring ways it can get better.”


Gasparilla Music Festival 2016

Gasparilla Music Festival
March 12 – 13, 2016




Gasparilla International Film FestivalFilmaker discussion on stage at the Tampa Theatre for the 2015 Gasparilla Film Festival



Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF)

While living in New York, Rachel Marks Feinman enjoyed an abundance of cultural activities. Moving back to Tampa made her realize just how much she missed events like the Tribeca Film Festival.

“I wanted to enhance the cultural landscape of this city,” said Feinman. “When I talk to people about film festivals they tell me how they go to Sundance or Tribeca. They think they have to leave where they live to have an experience like (a major film festival),” she said. As the president of GIFF, Feinman oversees what has become the largest, in terms of total films screened, and best attended film festival within the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area.

While attendance continues to grow each year, the event is also gaining stature within the film industry. For the 2016 festival, a record-breaking number of submissions — more than 850 films — were received.

Filmmakers screening movies here have brokered distribution deals. Newcomers trying to break into the industry access networking opportunities to further their careers. Designed to create interactive experiences for the audience that go beyond simply watching movies, GIFF enables attendees to meet directors, attend Q&A sessions with talent, or cheer celebrities, as they cross the red carpet.


GIFF2015-4_editMonica Varner, Andres Castillo, Rachel Marks Feinman, Ferdian Jap were the leadership that brought the 2015 GIFF to life.



“We’ve been ranked among the world’s top 50 festivals for the past three years by MovieMaker Magazine,” said Feinman. “A lot of that is due to how well the filmmakers are treated. We lack pretentiousness. We take ourselves seriously, but not too seriously.”

While Florida’s film industry struggles to compete for movies lured to other locations by financial incentives this state lacks, Feinman believes the festival offers Tampa a chance to show itself off to industry representatives and connect them with the people and resources they can tap into here.

“We have some excellent talent,” said Feinman. “This is such a clean and stable industry. Part of our mission is to keep talent from leaving Tampa.”      M


Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF)

Suncoast Credit Union
Gasparilla International Film Festival
March 30 – April 3, 2016








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Tampa Bay Metro Magazine & Blog

March 9, 2016 |

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