Back in 1969, when an early form of Tampa’s Gasparilla Festival of the Arts began at the Florida State Fair, it set tongues wagging for including nude paintings. Fifty years on, Gasparilla (February 29–March 1) makes headlines for a different kind of exposure: The 250 selected participants all have a chance at a piece of $80,000 in prize money, one of the largest arts-fest purses in the country. Last year, University of Tampa student and visual artist Nneka Jones won Gasparilla’s Emerging Artist Award, which came with $1,500, plus something more valuable for a young talent: “I met other artists, art collectors, journalists, and even gallerists,” she says.
Her Target series, mixed-media paintings created to bring awareness to abuse and sex trafficking, was viewed by seventy-five thousand people at the free two-day festival. Jones’s win led to a feature in her island home’s newspaper, Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, and commissions such as Biggie Embroidered, a hand-stitched, sixteen-by-twenty-inch portrait of the rapper Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G. You can see step-by-step photos of how she created it and other works at @artyouhungry, Jones’s gallery-like Instagram account, which, she says, doubled in followers as a result of the festival.
Jones’s work will be on display again this weekend as the festival returns to downtown Tampa. Anyone can swing by Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park for the event—admission is free. Check the festival’s website for a full schedule of events.