Historic downtown Sanford will be transformed into a hub for fine arts, fresh food and live entertainment this weekend as the Saint John River Arts Festival appears again.

The event will feature city blocks filled with creators and artisans, musicians, culinary artists and guests of all ages enjoying the festivities. Visitors can explore offerings all day from April 30 to May 1.

“It’s our 11th year and it’s taking place in beautiful historic downtown Sanford, where nearly every building is 100 years old,” said Liz Darwick, the festival’s treasurer. “We have wonderful restaurants, breweries and shops. We have 150 fine arts and crafts booths from regional and national artists.

As you browse the rows of stalls lining Sanford’s brick streets, festival-goers can expect to find arts and crafts including sculptures, jewelry, wood, photography, pottery and glass. Artists are vying for a total of $15,000 in prizes, including the Best of Show prize of $3,000.

More than just stationary works of art to browse and buy, the Saint John River Arts Festival offers a number of artist demonstrations allowing visitors to see the creative process come to life. Guests can see demonstrations of encaustic wax painting, steamroller engraving, and Gyotaku fish rubbing.

Gyotaku is a Japanese form of printmaking and also featured on this year’s festival poster, a creation by artist duo SandKat. Sandi Jackson and Kathy Howard are both Central Florida printmakers inspired by the natural world around them.

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“All the paint is applied to the body of a real fish. We go fishing and eat the other half. I refreeze them and use the painted side. Even the plants we use in our pieces are printed from real plants,” Jackson said. “It’s a beautiful art form. We love the ocean, we love the sea. It’s kind of our way of expressing our love for nature.

Festival organizers anticipate around 65,000 attendees and say Sanford presents a perfect destination for an arts festival.

“We encourage our attendees to linger after as we have riverside restaurants, downtown Sanford eateries, breweries and great little shops,” Darwick said.

The St. Johns River Festival of the Arts is a 501(c)(3) organization run by unpaid volunteers, and proceeds from the event benefit the festival’s Art for Kids program and scholarships for students who need help with tuition fees.

“It takes a lot of work to organize the festival, but there is something to see on the first Saturday morning after working so hard. It’s 10 a.m. and you’re looking at 1st Street, and there are already thousands of people coming to see all these beautiful works of art,” Darwick said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world.”

The St. Johns River Festival of the Arts runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 30 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 1 in downtown Sanford. Admission and parking are free. Pets are not allowed (except assistance dogs). For more information, visit stjohnsriverartfest.com.

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