By Rachel Brown Hackney
Attendance for the 2018 Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival was up almost 10% from 2017, with 65,225 attendees, organizers have announced.
That uptick came in spite of what the organizers characterized in their news release as “the red tide challenges the area had experienced.”
After red tide began killing tons of fish and turning the Gulf of Mexico a muddy rust color, tourism took a tumble on the Key. Business owners reported significant drops in the number of customers and condominium rentals.
The national attention to the problems in the late summer of 2018 obviously did not deter fans of the intricate and whimsical sand masterpieces.
“Based on data research and surveys, the total economic impact of out-of-county visitors to the 2018 Siesta Key Crystal Classic was estimated at $10,500,000,” the news release emphasized.
Other data received worth noting follows:
• 37% of attendees overnighted in hotels or condominiums, generating more than 19,000 room nights for the area.
• 41% of attendees were Sarasota County residents, 17% were Florida residents from outside of Sarasota County, 36% were from out of state and 6% were from other countries.
• 98% of attendees reported that the festival met or exceeded their expectations, “stating that this year’s event was most impressive,” the news release pointed out.
Siesta architect Mark Smith, a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, told attendees at the Chamber’s quarterly membership meeting that he knew attendance was up for the 2018 event. “I was in charge of the cash collection, and the cash collection was up.”
The Siesta Key Crystal Classic is owned by Siesta Beach Festival Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. “The event is produced by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism, local businesses, and both ephemeral and visual arts through a collaborative partnership with the community,” the release explained.
Based on a review of county records, the festival has been receiving grant funds since the 2016 fiscal year from the Sarasota County Commission, through the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. Organizations applying for the funding have to demonstrate their ability to bring visitors to the community. The grant for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2018, was for $31,676. The Crystal Classic was among 39 events or programs that won funding. That grant money was used for the November 2018 festival.
The description provided for the grant for the current fiscal year, presented to the County Commission as part of the materials for its June 13, 2018 meeting, read as follows: “Over the course of approximately 4 days, 8 teams of two master sand sculptors and 8 solo masters, who hail from several countries, create [8- to 10-feet high, three-dimensional] sand sculptures created solely out of the whitest, finest sand in the world and water. Collectively, they compete for $15,000 in prize money and an award at this masters sand sculpting venue held on the #1 beach. The artwork is displayed at night under colored lights as well,” the description noted. The lights highlight the sculptures in a unique way, it pointed out.
During the festival, the description added, more than 65 retail, art and food vendors have booths in what is called the Vendor Village on the beach. Additionally, the event features speed sculpting competitions between the sculptors and an educational element, which features sand samples from around the world.