Arts Festival celebrates Miami culture for 56th year

A portrait of Gian Thu, one of the many works Don Donelson shared at the Coconut Grove Arts Festival last weekend. Photo credit: Oscar Qiu

Palms trees, beaches and Café Bustelo. Try to name a more Miami-esque trio— I dare you.

The 2019 Coconut Grove Arts Festival, which took place Feb. 16 – 18, showcased this iconic trio in one of the most “Miami” events of the year.

A Miami favorite ,CGAF included a Cafe Bustelo tent where festival goers could grab a fresh cup of coffee, strike a pose at the photo booth, and charge their phones before exploring the rest of the grounds. Photo credit: Veronica Lucchese

Representing fifteen different art mediums including glass, metal and fiber, the essence of Miami was abstracted into many different creative forms, with nature-inspired art being the dominant theme this time around.

Amy Gillespie, a professional fiber and fashion design artist from Arlington, MA, won second place in CGAF’s fiber category. Showcasing her unique and colorful wet-felted wool landscapes, Gillespie’s tent portrayed nature through a very simplistic and vibrant lens.

Unlike other artists who use prefabricated materials, such as pre-primed canvases or factory-made molds, Gillespie invests herself in every step of her process, including pressing her own wool.

“What you’re looking at is the cross section,” Gillespie said. “I press my own wool and layer the colors to give it that affect.”

Another artist, a native Floridian and long-time business law lecturer at the University of Miami, Don C. Donelson showcased his nature-inspired photos as well as his portraits. An avid world-traveler, Donelson said he believes photography and traveling are a perfect match.

“Traveling leads to photography,” Donelson said. “One pushes the other.”

A portrait of Gian Thu, one of the many works Don Donelson shared at the Coconut Grove Arts Festival last weekend. Photo credit: Oscar Qiu

Persuaded by a friend to document his adventures, Donelson purchased a camera to capture the sense of wonder he experienced through his travels. A first-time artist at CGAF, Donelson wowed the jurors with his high-definition landscape and portrait pictures and won second place in the photography category.

The artists at CGAF encompassed the spirit of Miami. Representing the city’s unique marriage of island nature with urban grind, this festival is a great way for tourists, locals and students alike to immerse themselves in the Miami culture.

Aside from the talented artists, many local vendors and media representatives made an appearance at the festival. Although it was a hot three-day weekend, the waterfront venue coupled with the numerous frozen lemonade and refreshment stands made the heat bearable.

Miami, a city that thrives off its tourism, is especially sensitive to anthropogenic issues such as plastic pollution. Home to numerous exotic animal species such as sea turtles and ibises, Miami’s economy is dependent on the aesthetic of the landscape. With this in mind, it would have been nice for the festival to have required the use of eco-friendly products.

A garbage can overflowing with plastic, styrofoam, and more at CGAF, seemingly ironic as much as the festival's art focused on capturing the beauty of the environment. Photo credit: Oscar Qiu

While the art and the venue were breathtaking, garbage cans that were overflowing with plastic straws, cups and plates were not. Large festivals such as CGAF have a responsibility to act in the best interest of the local community. Next year, I hope to see more sustainable practices as well as some representation from local environmental organizations that support the arts such as the Biscayne Nature Center or the Charles Deering Estate.

Art, refreshments and views, CGAF had it all. While not the most eco-friendly festival around, CGAF definitely did a good job of bringing the Miami community together, and I am looking forward to seeing what next year’s festival has to offer.