Gasparilla Interactive Festival in Tampa spotlights digital tech

People from all over the globe flock to SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX every year, just as they do to LeWeb in Paris, France and The Goa Project in Goa, India.

Come this spring, expect the start of the same kind of interest and attention for Tampa’s combined Gasparilla festivals, including the debut of the Gasparilla Interactive Festival. GIF will debut on Friday, March 6, as the missing link soon connecting the long-standing Gasparilla festivals that feature music, film and arts throughout March.

Tampa will hold the first Gasparilla Interactive Festival at Port Tampa Bay’s Cruise Terminal 3 in the Channel District neighborhood of downtown. The day-long festival is designed to position local entrepreneurs next to national speakers focused on digital innovation and technology. 
An energetic buzz surrounds the possibilities of what a tech-focused festival could mean for the Tampa Bay region’s economy and reputation. The goal is to distinguish the Tampa event from other better-known and longer-running tech festivals.

“We’ve got our own creative mystique to the Gasparilla name -- it’s been around for over a century,” says GIF’s Executive Director Vinny Tafuro. “We want to be our own entity -- we have our own identity. We’re a new event with a new energy to it.”

Still, Tafuro reels off numbers, touting the economic impact of events like SXSW on local economies (for example: in 2013, the Austin Business Journal says the annual Texas festival brought $218.2 million to the city). 

“It’s huge,” Tafuro says. “Everybody sees the potential of it.”

GIF will demonstrate some of the ways that the local community is tech-driven and moving forward, agrees Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist.

“This first event is like the acorn for a tree,” says Crist, the festival’s advisory board chair. “What we hope to do is build this thing very rapidly.”

Building a tech future with a piece of Tampa’s past

Three years ago when Tafuro was president of the American Advertising Federation Tampa Bay, the group invited various Gasparilla festivals to advertise their events during the AAF’s “ADDY Awards.”

Tafuro saw the connection then between commercial and fine arts, and noted that the advertising and digital landscape was revolutionizing the way media and consumers interact. That interest evolved into the creation of the Gasparilla Interactive Festival. 

Having the Gasparilla name and brand attached to the festival was “the key deciding factor,” Tafuro says. “The fact that we have a music, film and arts festival, these established cultural arts events already happening: we saw a natural fit within the interactive realm.” 

Although they are separate events, the various Gasparilla festivals plan to cross-promote and work together to grow. There’s no trademark on the name, but Tafuro reached out to the different festivals and Ye Mystic Krewe before adopting the Gasparilla name officially.

“Attaching the name ‘Gasparilla’ to the Interactive Festival really, to me, amped it up and made it more appealing and more interesting for us to get involved,” says Ben Lee, co-founder of advertising agency Schifino Lee

“It immediately gave it some brand equity,” Schifino Lee co-founder Paola Schifino adds. 

Within 30 minutes of discussing Gasparilla Interactive with Tafuro, Schifino and Lee were ready to support GIF by designing the festival’s branding and logo.

“This is something that is really easy for the advertising industry to rally behind,” Lee says, “because it’s the future of our industry and there’s a lot of support, capability and capacity here in the Tampa Bay market. We have some of the best creative minds.”

Schifino mentions that large associations go to New Orleans during the annual Jazz Festival for conferences; Gasparilla Interactive could potentially draw the same tourist and business crowds to Tampa. 

Tafuro agrees, noting that Gasparilla Interactive Festival can give businesses a reason to visit Tampa during Gasparilla Arts month, “while still enjoying the arts we have to offer.”

Connecting the 2015 Gasparilla festivals 

The Gasparilla Festival of the Arts is Feb 28-March 1, while the Gasparilla Music Festival is March 7-8. The Gasparilla International Film Festival takes place March 24-29. 

The first Gasparilla Interactive Festival will be a one-day speaker series and expo. Visit the event website for more information or to register.

Confirmed speakers include Faris Yakob, founder of Genius Steals LLC; Joanna Lord, VP of Marketing at Porch; Peter Shankman, founder at ShankMinds Business Masterminds: and Savannah Peterson, Global Community Manager at Shapeways.

Topics will include technology and innovation, digital advertising and entrepreneurship. 

The opening reception for Gasparilla Interactive Festival will take place at the Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay Q1 Tech & Entrepreneur Peer Networking Event on Thursday, March 5, at District 3 in downtown Tampa. The festival’s closing party will be at Channelside Bay Plaza with music provided by the Gasparilla Music Festival.

“I’ve got a vision for it. I can see a medical tech day. I can see it growing organically year after year,” Tafuro says. “We’ve got all these tech silos in the area – we see this as a way to bring them together to celebrate technology and innovation.”

Crist and Hillsborough County Economic Development leaders agree. 

“This is the budding ground of what’s going to be a rich future for us and the direction we all want to go in,” Crist says. “The impact on our local communities, by bringing in outside technologies and advancements, could help grow ideas and foster transitions here at home.”

Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Innovation Initiative has pledged $25,000 toward the festival, which was matched with private funds from event sponsors.

“It’s not going to be everything overnight,” says Tafuro, “but it’s a beginning. And I think it can grow quickly.”
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Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.