Home | News | Manatee Festival of the Arts expands — but keeps its local focus

Manatee Festival of the Arts expands — but keeps its local focus

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image Pamela Vasquez, an increasingly well-known fine-art photographer will be among those displaying at the festivaal. Photo Mitch Traphagen

The 22nd annual running of the popular event will take place this weekend at the TECO SouthShore Event Center in Apollo Beach

South Hillsborough is blessed with festivals. And like the area itself, the festivals have changed over the years: They have grown bigger, attracting an ever-larger audience as well as garnering attention from vendors around the nation. But while they have grown to become regional in size, they have retained their local focus. That is largely thanks to the chambers of commerce that organize them. The Manatee Festival of the Arts in Apollo Beach, coming up this weekend, is most definitely among them.

“With all of the new growth that is coming down here, from commercial to medical, this is still the Southshore community to me,” said SouthShore Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Morrison. “This is a community event.”

The event will be held at the Tampa Electric SouthShore Events Center near the TECO Manatee Viewing Center on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The festival itself has become a big event on the art scene with a growing — and glowing — reputation as a juried art show. Artists come from around the nation, from New York to California, to display their work.

“People come from all over the country to entertain us, but this is for us,” Morrison continued. “I think a lot of people will come out this year. It is our last time doing it at this spot, so I’m hoping lots of people will come out to see us.”

Morrison is expecting 10,000 visitors to the annual art festival this year. Live music is scheduled for the entire festival, beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday with the Doby Elementary Little Kids Rock Band kicking things off for numerous local and regional acts, including Stacey Knights, the Dixie Rose Band, and LadyHawke, among others.

Melanie Morrison & Leslie Bennett

While artists and even vendors come from around the country to attend the festival, as much as the community remains a focus of the event, so too do local artists.

Pamela Vasquez is a teacher for gifted students at Doby Elementary School in Apollo Beach. She is also an artist, a photographer with a growing reputation for her work. Two years ago one of her photos was selected for the art festival T-shirt. This year, she’ll be displaying her work in her own booth. The photo chosen for the T-shirt, taken at Little Harbor Resort, will be available on canvas, along with her many stunning photos from Tampa Bay, Belize and beyond.

“When I taught in Wimauma and was driving to work, I would see a picture every five seconds,” Vasquez said. “I feel like I see a picture in my mind. When I look at the Skyway, I can see a snapshot, but I try to completely avoid that and I try to take what I see, in my mind, is an amazing picture. I see something, I can’t really articulate it, but I might see a stone like that, and I’ve seen the Skyway like that.”

Her photo of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on canvas is certainly no mere snapshot — she brings the bridge to life with her use of color and light. For snowbirds returning home for the summer, she provides an opportunity to take with them a captured moment of time in the Tampa Bay area.

Vasquez hopes people will visit her booth, if for nothing else but to look around. As both a patron of art shows and an exhibitor, she understands both sides of the equation for artists and art lovers.

“It can be very intimidating, she said. “I just want people to enjoy my images. I hope people get out of it something that brings them a moment of happiness or calm.”

Vasquez grew up in Belize and traveled frequently to Scotland and New York. She has seen a wide variety of the world through her photographic eye and has honed her skills in capturing what she sees in her mind’s eye.

“When I was eight, my dad gave me an old camera from my grandfather,” she said. “He taught me how to use it, how to compose. It was all manual, and I wouldn’t let go of it. For my graduation when I was 17, I got a Canon AE-1. I still have it.”

Though she has since moved on to digital photography, her compositions remain as unique as she is.

“I can’t describe it, it’s just something that, when I get behind the camera, composing scenes...I seem to have a natural eye to do that.”

She is master of light, seeing shadows and patterns. She finds unusual ways to use an off-camera flash or two to bring heartfelt, palpable emotion to a scene. To light it as she sees it in her mind, in a way that fires the imagination in a most welcoming manner. In one photo, she uses a radio-controlled flash to light up the steps and doorway of a beach cottage at dusk in Belize. In another photo, she submerged a radio-controlled flash in a fountain using a Ziploc bag, bringing forth subtle but beautiful light for the subject of the photo.

She photographs weddings and family portraits, but capturing nature and the outdoors remains her favorite setting. As a result, she combines the two, revealing the wonder of human nature in nature itself.

Famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said: “To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.”

That describes Pamela Vasquez and her purpose with her photography: to capture an all-too-fleeting reality in a beautiful way. And to bring joy to those who see it.

“There are so many photographers out there,” she said. “I try to make my work different, but it’s really in the eye of the beholder. Some of the images I find that people like a lot aren’t my favorites, and I’m surprised by that. My goal is that if someone hangs my picture in their home, they get pleasure in it, that it brings them joy.”

The 22nd annual Manatee Festival of the Arts will be held on March 8 and 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the TECO SouthShore Events Center at 302 Noonan Branch Road in Apollo Beach. In addition to continuous live musical entertainment, the festival will also feature a children’s creativity area, a food court and adult beverages. Admission is $5 for adults; children 12 and under admitted free. Parking is free, as is a shuttle to the Manatee Viewing Center. For information, visit www.southshorechamberofcommerce.org or call 813-645-1366.

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