Mayfaire began as a small craft show on the lawn of the Lakeland Public Library. Held on Mother’s Day weekend, it was a great opportunity for families to celebrate mothers and purchase gifts for them while at the event. Forty-seven years later, the tradition still stands — but this isn’t the same small craft show from back in the day. The Polk Museum of Art’s MIDFLORIDA Mayfaire by-the-Lake festival has grown to be one of the most prestigious, fun-filled outdoor fine arts shows in Florida; a thoughtfully curated event for the art enthusiast and the novice alike to engage with Lakeland’s thriving art community.
Photos Sourced by Polk Museum of Art
The richness of the arts is undeniable, and the Lakeland community has proven that through its love of art. From the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture to organizations like Polk Museum of Art and Explorations V, Lakeland offers a mix of creative events and spaces that remind us of the ways that the arts have enhanced our lives. There’s an inherent value to it that enriches our understanding of culture: it entertains, it revives, and it defines us. It is also as diverse as the artists themselves, with multiple mediums and avenues for it to be represented.
In recent years, it has also been in the forefront of many controversial talks. From school arts programs suffering greatly due to budgetary purposes to the instantaneous ability to engage with it like never before through the means of social media and technology, the in-person experience of art appears to be facing much tension in terms of its return on investment.
Thanks to technology, we are more interconnected than ever before. The internet allows us to bypass the gallery system. Captivating artwork can be accessed in an instant. But there are many mediums of art to be explored. And just as art is about seeing, it is also about experiencing and cultivating community through it. Lakeland’s diverse offerings in art experiences has continued to cultivate a community that uses events like MIDFLORIDA Mayfaire by-the-Lake to better connect us to our surrounding culture.
Mayfaire has evolved since being the small craft show nestled on the Lakeland Library lawn back in 1971. “It has grown to be a pretty reputable art show in the country,” says Mayfaire Coordinator Joy Williams. As one of the largest and oldest outdoor art festivals in Central Florida, Mayfaire ranked as one of the top 20 art shows in the country in Sunshine Artist magazine’s prestigious “Best 200 Art Shows” list in 2016.
The first Mayfaire took place Mother’s Day weekend in 1971. It was a small craft show with the intention to host an event for families to learn about art while celebrating and buying gifts for mothers.
Put on by the Polk Museum of Art, today’s event still takes place on Mother’s Day weekend, and it draws in the masses. With an estimated 70,000 people attending each year, one must wonder: why is it so successful?
A great art festival can be a truly enriching and eye-opening experience. These types of events bring in art created by people from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences, and allow patrons to interact with the artists they are purchasing from. Our need to see work in person provides an avenue for personal connections such as those created by art festivals like Mayfaire.
What also makes Mayfaire unique is our community. “We have a community that shows up to events and appreciates art,” says Williams. “I also think we draw in a lot of well-known artists because our location appeals to them.”
“Word has gotten out that we’re a good art show,” says Leslie Norman, who co-
coordinates Mayfaire alongside Williams. This predominantly word-of-mouth exposure has captured the attention of many artists and patrons.
The traffic driven by Mayfaire is valuable to our community. Between more visitors staying at hotels and an increase of customers at restaurants throughout the weekend, the out-of-town guests stimulate our local businesses. Mayfaire also gives back to our community in a cultural sense, too. “It educates the community in the different mediums of art,” says Williams. “It even educates our children in the different forms of art, the importance of collecting, and creativity.”
It’s been said that creative activities are the building blocks of early childhood development. Multiple studies suggest that facilitating activities where kids can learn, grow, and create through the arts can better equip them with the resources they need to succeed in life. The intention put into creating environments for children to also engage in Mayfaire speaks to Polk Museum of Art’s belief in such an investment. At this year’s Mayfaire, there will also be activities for children where they can create crafts. These will be located on Chiles Street and are free for all children.
There is also much more to anticipate at this year’s packed-out Mayfaire weekend. The juried art show will feature the work from about 160 artists: jewelers, ceramicists, painters, and photographers — there is something for anyone who enjoys an array of art mediums or is simply looking for a unique gift for Mom.
Every year, the Polk Museum of Art chooses an artist to design the festival’s signature image. Long-time Mayfaire participant Ummarid “Tony” Eitharong has been announced as this year’s cover artist, and his piece titled Green River will be featured on the Mayfaire poster and T-shirts. Eitharong, a previous Mayfaire Best of Show winner, is from Orlando.
Other activities include Mayfaire Saturday Night which begins at 5:30 p.m. on May 12. This free event will take place along the shore of Lake Mirror at the Frances Langford Promenade, just two blocks north of Lake Morton, and will include live music and a variety of food trucks. The night will culminate with a fireworks show at 9 p.m. “Bring a blanket, bring a chair, listen to some good music, and come watch the fireworks,” suggests Norman.
Organized by the Lakeland Runners Club, the MIDFLORIDA Mayfaire 5k race will also take place on that Saturday and is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. With an expected 1,200 participants, the scenic course will take runners around Lake Mirror and Lake Morton. The race will finish at just the right time for participants to make it to that night’s fireworks show. A portion of the proceeds from the race will benefit the Polk Museum of Art. (For more information, visit lakelandrunnersclub.org/lrcraces/m5k.)
Mayfaire offers a full schedule, and there is plenty going on to entertain the whole family. When asked why our community should come out to the annual MIDFLORIDA Mayfaire by-the-Lake, Norman says, “It’s a fantastic opportunity to gather your family together, have a day to spend with Mom, pick out a gift, and just start a tradition.”
Above all else, Mayfaire continues to be a thriving art festival that gives its fair share back to the community through an engaging experience in which the whole family can partake.