WW GOES TO WDW at Yesterland.com The Festival of the Masters
at Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World, November 7-9, 2008
Disney Festival of the Masters
Chalk artists Shelly Brandon and Heather Wayne create “Danielle” based on a photograph.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, visits the
33rd Annual Downtown Disney Festival of the Masters

November 13, 2008
Disney Festival of the Masters
A sign tells guests that they’re at the Festival of the Masters.

Imagine a Walt Disney World event that presents spectacular creativity and talent, offers fun for the whole family (including hands-on activities for kids), and doesn’t require an admission ticket.

It’s called the Festival of the Masters, and it’s been an annual event at Florida’s Downtown Disney for 33 years. My first visit ever to this event was on Sunday, November 9, its third and final day this year. I was genuinely impressed.

Disney Festival of the Masters
Artists’ displays line the walkways of the Downtown Disney Westside.

I took a Walt Disney World bus from my resort to Downtown Disney. I’m glad I had that option. Parking is difficult at Downtown Disney on regular days, but with the crowds that this event attracted, the parking lot was full and entrances to the lot were closed.

Although the Festival of the Masters used all of Downtown Disney to some extent, the majority of the artists were at the Westside. The chalk artists, LEGO builders, and family activities were at the Marketplace. The main part of Pleasure Island, where the clubs closed permanently on September 27 of this year, had only the Yellow Shoes Tent; Disney artists raised money for Orlando’s Red Chair (cultural awareness) Project.

Disney Festival of the Masters
More than 150 artists show off their award-winning work.

You’ve probably been to art and craft fairs with side-by-side tents offering pictures and knickknacks of varying quality. At first, the art tents on the Westside appeared to be the same thing—but the art here was a much better than at a typical art fair.

The Festival of the Masters is not an art fair where anybody can pay the fee and get a space. According to the program, “This year’s Festival showcases the art of more than 150 of the finest artists from across the nation. In order to be considered for the Festival, artists must have previously obtained an award from a juried art show. They are all award winning artists!”

Disney Festival of the Masters
This polar bear by artist Bill Secunda of is made of welded nails.

There was always a crowd around Bill Secunda’s welded nail sculptures. In addition to this polar bear, the self-taught metal sculptor showed a lifesize kodiak bear, a black bear cub, and several other works. Each welded nail sculpture weighs 800 to 2,500 pounds and takes 30,000 to 80,000 nails over a formed steel armature.

Disney Festival of the Masters
Don Carter’s wooden boat replicas are historically accurate.

Sure, there were paintings at the Festival of the Masters (including some very good paintings). But there was also photography, watercolor, sculpture, clay, glass, jewelry, drawings, prints, digital arts, leather, wood, fiber, paper, and mixed media.

Disney Festival of the Masters
A guest admires a cast glass sculpture by Susan Gott.

The abstract sculptural glass of Susan Gott of Tampa, Florida, is another example the quality of work at the Festival of the Masters.

Disney Festival of the Masters
William Kidd (in the doorway) displayed his unusual ceramics.

Ceramic artist William Kidd of Miramar, Florida, creates works that appear to inspired by nature, while not being actual representations of nature.

A blue ribbon in a booth can represent more than simple recognition by the judges. The Festival of the Masters awards more than $40,000 in prize money, which includes purchases for the Disney Corporate Collection.

Disney Festival of the Masters
Folk artists had booths around the House of Blues.

The sidewalks along and behind the House of Blues hosted the “Where the Art Meets the Soul” Folk Art Festival. Folk art is usually defined as art produced by people without formal training in art, and can include a wide variety of styes, media, and approaches to art. The works in this section tended to be simple and colorful, and some were quite appealing. Unfortunately, this section did not offer the variety that would have expected.

Disney Festival of the Masters
Main Street Station at Magic Kingdom Park in LEGO by Robin Werner

LEGO at an art festival? Sure! Why not? Members of the Greater Florida LEGO Train Club showed off their work outside the LEGO Imagination Center.

Disney Festival of the Masters
The Disney Magic in LEGO by Michael Huffman

I couldn’t decide whether to illustrate my mention of LEGO at the Festival of the Masters with the LEGO version of Main Street Station or the LEGO version of the Disney Magic—so I used both.

Disney Festival of the Masters
Chalk artists created almost 60 works of art around the World of Disney store.

Despite the excellent works on display in the tents on the Westside, the highlight of the Festival of the Masters for me was the “Street Painting Festival.” At the beginning of the three-day event, almost 60 chalk artists (or teams of artists) each began with a blank square of the concrete near the World of Disney store. About half the spaces went to high school teams, while the rest went to professional artists. By early Sunday afternoon, the chalk artworks had to be ready for judging.

Disney Festival of the Masters
A team of high school chalk artists receives an award.

In an award ceremony Sunday afternoon, chalk artists received awards (usually first and second place) in twelve categories such as “Best Tribute to a Master,” “Best Landscape,” and “Best Original Work by an Artist.”

Disney Festival of the Masters
“Mr. President” by chalk artist Anna McCambridge

A portrait of President-elect Barack Obama won first place in the “Best Reproduction of a Photograph” category.

I was told that the sidewalks would be pressure-washed Sunday night, and there would be no sign of the sidewalk art when shoppers returned to the Downtown Disney Marketplace Monday morning.

I wish that I had been able to see more of the sidewalk art being created. By the time I arrived on Sunday, the works were largely done. The chalk artists were applying their finishing touches—and constantly removing the acorns and dry leaves that kept landing on the art. One artist joked that next year he might choose acorns and dry leaves as his subject, so that the actual acorns and dry leaves would just blend in.

Disney Festival of the Masters
Enjoy a glass of bubbly as you browse the artworks.

The Festival of the Masters was also a mini-Food & Wine Festival.

Disney Festival of the Masters
Hungry? Several Downtown Disney restaurants set up tents.

Several Downtown Disney restaurants, including Raglan Road, FoodQuest, House of Blues, Portobello (formerly Portobello Yacht Club), and Fulton’s had tents selling small food portions.

Portobello offered two items, each costing $4.00: an Italian Sausage Panini and Caprese Salad.

Disney Festival of the Masters
Children drew Disney characters outside of DisneyQuest.

There were several activities for children. For example, Ghiradelli offered a bead necklace activity. Some of them involved Sharpie markers, because Sharpie was the primary sponsor of the Festival. (I hope the kids kept the markers away from their clothes because Sharpie is an excellent permanent marker.)

Disney Festival of the Masters
It wouldn’t be a Disney event without official merchandise.

Yes, you could buy t-shirt, caps, mugs, posters, and other souvenirs. Of course, the best souvenir would be your favorite work of art that you saw in the tents at the Westside.

I hope that Festival of the Masters will once again occur while I’m at Walt Disney World in the fall, because I look forward to going again.

Epcot Food & Wine, 2009
Food & Wine, 2008, Part 2

© 2008-2009 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated October 9, 2009

Photographs of Disney Festival of the Masters by Werner Weiss, 2008.