Foo Foo Fest: From Past to Present

Foo Foo Fest: From Past to Present

Words by Paige Townley

In the middle of downtown Pensacola stand multiple painted wooden cubes. Those cubes originated nearly a decade ago as part of an art project for the Pensacola Foo Foo Festival, the city’s annual 12-day celebration of arts, music, and culture. It was a project called Cubed, where a group set up multiple cubes and invited dozens of artists to paint unique murals on each side of them. “It was a whole weekend of artists painting the cubes,” explains David Bear, the founder of Foo Foo Fest. “People could walk around and watch them paint, and it was a lot of fun. Those murals eventually got moved just a few blocks away to live permanently, but they are changed out every once in a while. It continues to evolve as an art project.”

Those sorts of unique projects are exactly what Foo Foo Fest was created to be, thanks in part to the incredible arts and culture scene in Pensacola. Though a smaller beach community, Pensacola serves as home to major cultural organizations—including a symphony, ballet, opera, museum, and theater—and local creatives knew the city should show it off. “We had all of these cultural offerings that are an important part of tourism as well, but the focus was always the beach,” explains Maria Goldberg, who was on the original Foo Foo Fest organizing committee, continuing today as a committee member and its most recent past chairperson. “What can visitors do when it’s raining or they’re off the beach? Pensacola has so much more to offer.”

That’s what gave David the idea to start an event—one that focused solely on the serious calendar of events during what used to be Pensacola’s shoulder season, November. After securing public funds, David and his organizing committee hit the ground running to start a cultural tourism campaign. “I envisioned a festival, but not a ticketed festival,” he says. “Rather, one to celebrate all of the arts and culture going on in the fall. I really didn’t know what it would look like in the beginning. We kind of built the plane while we were flying it. But we wanted to expand tourism in the fall. We knew we had such a rich culture, history, and art scene here that it was time for us to start sharing it with everyone outside the area so we could leverage it.”

That’s when Foo Foo Fest was born. Though uniquely, the organizing committee didn’t set out to create the programming to draw tourists to Pensacola. Rather, they leaned on the dozens of local nonprofits and other organizations that are creative each and every day. “We have hundreds of arts organizations and cultural organizations that have wonderful programming, so there was no need for us to do programming, so to speak,” Maria adds. “We just decided to package them together to promote tourism during this time and use the funds we had to help these groups put on their amazing events.”

Those events were home runs from the very beginning. One of the most popular presentations in Foo Foo Fest’s first year was the Digital Graffiti 3D projection on the old courthouse—now an art gallery itself. “People were blown away by it,” Maria says. “That event was so out of the box and really helped set the stage for the future of Foo Foo.”

That event culminated in so many others over the years, from a concert by GRAMMY Award-winner Béla Fleck to celebrate the 50th year of the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival and improv from The Second City to internationally renowned Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. “Another significant event was when the Pensacola Opera brought in three opera tenors and set up a stage in the outfield of the bayfront baseball stadium,” David says. “It was a beautiful performance in a unique place, and the stadium was packed out.”

This year, Foo Foo Fest continues to bring in major acts—including  Broadway’s Megan Hilty, indie rock band Manchester Orchestra, renowned artist Scott Andresen—as well as a showcase of all the local talent for which Pensacola is known. “It’s gotten to the point that it’s just part of what we do here in Pensacola,” Maria says. “It’s part of the culture now. People look forward to it every year, and it just gets better and better. The creative offerings continue to evolve, showcasing how rich of an arts and cultural community Pensacola is.” 

Just like those ever-evolving cubes in downtown Pensacola.