How The DeLand Fall Festival began...
Planning first began for this event in 1992 when Harry Messersmith, Director of the DeLand Museum of Art, initiated discussions with local community leaders and downtown merchants about the feasibility of producing a two-day fine arts event in the historic downtown area of DeLand. In addition to the DeLand Museum of Art (now the Museum of Art), The Theater Center, Inc. (now the Sands Theater Center), under Executive Director, LaVerda Felton and MainStreet DeLand Association, under Executive Director, Maureen France agreed to co-produce the event. A steering committee was formed with the first Co-Chairs being Gus Gibbs and Pat West. The first festival was scheduled for November 1993.
The fundamental operation of the Festival continues to be the responsibility of the three original presenting partners, each of which has a representative on the Festival’s Board of Directors. The Museum of Art is primarily responsible for facilitating the jurying process, obtaining judges, and enforcing artistic standards. Festival administration is handled by the MainStreet DeLand Association. The Sands Theater Center is responsible for Youth Performance Art, event planning, and promotional activities. For the first six years the Festival operated strictly as a production of the three founding partners. In 1999 the Festival became its own non-profit corporation.
The event now has an annual attendance of more than 50,000 over the weekend immediately prior to Thanksgiving each year. The juried show attracts artists from all across the United States and several international venues as well. Applicants compete for one of the 180 exhibition spaces. A Patron Program was initiated in 2004 and continues to grow each year. This program not only serves as an enticement for artists to participate in the festival but, through the educational events connected with the program, it also provides an opportunity for Patrons to enrich and expand their knowledge of art and collecting.
Over the years, the Festival has received numerous awards and honors. It continues to receive high marks from the artists who exhibit here with over 75% of them reapplying annually. It is rated as one of the most "Artist Friendly" venues in the state in such publications as Sunshine Artist. Its popularity among attendees remains high also. The festival has scored very well in numerous surveys. A reader’s poll in Florida Monthly Magazine named it the number one Arts & Craft Show in the State of Florida.