MOUNT DORA, Fla. – The 46th annual Mount Dora Arts Festival will welcome art lovers and artists on Saturday not just from Florida but from outside the Sunshine State as well.
Ronald Weltmer, a woodwork artist who lives in Eustis, is excited to be attending the iconic festival for the first time.
“It’s an honor. It really is. I’m looking forward to meeting wonderful people,” Weltmer, a Vietnam War veteran, said.
The 76-year-old became passionate about making art with wood more than 10 years ago. But during 2020, it was difficult to make ends meet because of the global pandemic that forced art shows to be canceled.
“We were almost bankrupt ... My wife-- she works part-time, and her hours were cut in half,” he said. “I don’t agree with unemployment or anything like that. God gives us the ability to work and so I work.”
Weltmore is among more than 100 artists who will showcase their talent but this year, the festival will be different. Organizers from the Mount Dora Center for the Arts said their priority is the public’s safety. With assistance from city officials, signage requiring masks to be worn throughout the festivals were placed throughout the city, and hand sanitizing stations as well.
“The footprint of our festival is smaller to better control the patrons. We are reducing the number of artists,” Krysta Smith, festival program director, said. “We normally have almost 300, this year we have about 130 so that we can socially distance them from each other and there’s room for the crowds to mix in between the booths.”
Smith added the reason they went ahead with the art festival amid the pandemic is to support businesses and artists struggling since COVID-19 broke out last March.
“We went back and forth so many times on our board, the staff, but we really needed to do this for the artists and for our community. Our merchants are suffering, our restaurants downtown. This will give them a boost,” Smith said.
Deborah Barnes, a jewelry artist in Mount Dora, has been part of the festival for more than 40 years and is looking forward to her first show in a year. In 2020, she said all of her shows got canceled.
“We’re still adjusting,” Barnes said. “At first it was even hard to create when you don’t know where you’re going. I’m anxious but I’m excited to do the show. It’ll be nice to see the artists, too, you know, I haven’t seen them in a year.”
Organizers of the art festival said there will be no food vendors attending this year but there will be two designated food court areas where people can eat and take off their masks. Visitors are asked not to stroll around the festival with food or drinks to prevent them from taking off their face coverings.