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The Manatee Festival of the Arts opens this weekend

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Festival celebrates 20th year.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

APOLLO BEACH — It began humbly enough, but has grown with each passing year to become one of the Tampa Bay area’s premier events. Beginning on March 10, the Manatee Festival for the Arts in Apollo Beach will celebrate its 20th year and organizers hope this will be the biggest and best ever.

“I think this is really exciting,” said SouthShore Chamber of Commerce executive director Melanie Morrison.

The chamber is the organizer of the annual event and this will be the first time the festival has been held under the newly combined Ruskin and Apollo Beach Chambers.

“Half of the committee has been doing this for years, the other half is new to it,” Morrison continued. Thus, for the art festival this year there will be a healthy mix of experience and fresh perspective. The plans for the festival reveal the advantages of both.

Art itself is the focus of the event, of course, and an estimated 75 juried artists from around the nation will be in attendance, offering visitors a unique opportunity to find their own fresh perspectives on art. This year will also include a newly added section featuring the performing arts.

While art is the overriding theme of the festival, Morrison’s focus remains on the communities and businesses of South Hillsborough, and offering anew the opportunity for communities to come together to share resources for the benefit of all.

“It’s great because we have people from both Ruskin and Apollo Beach on the [organizing] committee,” she said. “I’ve lived in Apollo Beach and have worked in Ruskin. I’ve seen what is important to both communities. These communities can work together, and I’m hoping this is an opportunity for them to come together.”

The festival has gained national recognition over the years and Morrison is looking forward to raising awareness of the community through the arts.

“The festival has recently drawn about 8,000 people,” she said. “We would love to draw 10,000 this year.”

The success of the event is in no small part thanks to the ongoing commitment to quality held by the organizers in selecting artists. The result is a unique showcase of fine art and fine crafts from highly talented artists, both local and national.

With a large section dedicated to children through the Children’s Creativity Center, the festival is a family-friendly event that not only highlights the arts, but also the natural beauty found in South Hillsborough. The festival, held near the Apollo Beach Elementary School, will include free shuttles to the nearby TECO Manatee Viewing Center, offering the chance to see the many dozens of the gentle aquatic giants basking in the warm water of their winter habitat.

It will also offer more than the standard festival dining fare with a culinary arts program, and several local non-profit organizations will have displays that showcase the beauty that lies both within and beyond the peaceful streets and avenues of the waterfront Apollo Beach community. And throughout the festival, live musical entertainment will complete what can only be described as an inexpensive, unique and fun-filled experience.

There are few events where art is as intimate and accessible as at the Manatee Festival of the Arts. From one-of-a-kind handmade trinkets to fine portraiture, there is something for everyone in the weekend event. In this 20th year of the festival, it promises to be better than ever; and the weather forecast, calling for sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s, will only serve to enhance the experience. On March 10 and 11, come out to see for yourself one of the best events in the Tampa Bay area — and it’s right here in our own backyard.

Tickets are $5 for adults, children under 12 are admitted free. The festival will be held at TECO South Shore Community Events Center, 302 Noonan Branch Road in Apollo Beach from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 10 and 11. For more information, call the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce at 813-645-1366.

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