Foo Foo Festival Highlights the Arts in Pensacola
In the 19th Century, ships would often set sail on long voyages. When the sailing was smooth, and when the boredom set in, a few of the crew would grab the instruments on board and begin to play. The impromptu band, called a Foo Foo, provided entertainment to the ship, livening the mood onboard. Today, Pensacola’s Foo Foo Festival has the same goal—bring twelve days of arts and entertainment to delight the city.
In 2013, there was no Foo Foo Festival. “About eight years ago, a group of us got together, led by David Bear (Past Chair of the Foo Foo Festival and current Trustee Emeritus Art, Culture, and Entertainment, Inc.). We all love art and wanted more of it in Pensacola. We thought, ‘Hey, let’s bring people to Pensacola focused around art—they can eat here, and stay at local hotels.’ We were able to lobby our county commissioners for a part of the Bed Tax leveraged from the hoteliers to promote tourism to Pensacola.” said Maria Goldberg, a founding committee member of the festival.
The festival committee’s idea was to use the money from the Bed Tax to provide grants to arts and culture organizations throughout Pensacola. Those organizations would then create installations and events for the twelve-day festival. The committee realized people already knew about the beaches, but tourists were often unaware of everything else Pensacola had to offer. “We have a plethora of arts and cultural organizations for a community of our size—a ballet, a symphony, an opera, an art museum—and they’ve been around for over 50 years. It’s a very art-friendly community.” said Goldberg.
Goldberg, who now serves as Chair of Foo Foo Festival, was excited at the thought of expanding the city’s tourist season. “We thought a great time to have the festival was early November,” she said. “That time is a hidden secret—people are in school and most of the tourists are gone, but it’s still sunny and beautiful here.”
The first year of the festival was thrown together quickly. After the idea was approved, Goldberg and the other committee members had just four months to pull it off—and it ended up exceeding their wildest expectations. There was a mix of large and intimate events, but one in particular blew everyone away. “There was a digital projection on the old county courthouse in downtown. It was the storyline of the history of Pensacola—a 10-minute movie projection. We had never had anything like this!” she said. The festival, and the courthouse projection in particular, took off on social media. It was clear—Foo Foo Festival wasn’t going to be a one-time thing.
Now in its seventh year, the festival has become a staple for Pensacola locals and tourists alike. Even local restaurants, hotels, and bars participate as a “Friend of Foo,” hosting events alongside those planned by the grant recipients. Since many of the events are free to attend, it gives everyone an opportunity to enjoy the arts scene the city offers. In fact, the festival has become so popular that you may have seen pictures of it without knowing. One of the viral installations was called Umbrella Sky. “An artist installed the umbrellas in the air on a street downtown, and people loved taking photos,” said Goldberg.
Each year, the festival is growing bigger and better. More and more nonprofits are submitting grant applications, and the city’s arts scene is thriving. “We get visitors from all over,” said Goldberg. “It’s so cool to see people coming to experience what we have in Pensacola. The beaches are spectacular, but there’s so much more to Pensacola than that.”
This year’s Foo Foo Festival is November 4-15, 2021. For more information on this year’s grant recipients and events, visit www.foofoofest.com.