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Organizers claim Barefoot in the Park better than ever

Staff Intern: John Spruill  Jacob Franklin gets his face painted at Barefoot in the Park in Duluth on Saturday.

Staff Intern: John Spruill Jacob Franklin gets his face painted at Barefoot in the Park in Duluth on Saturday.

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Staff Intern: John Spruill Patrons walk around the different artist booths at Barefoot in the Park in Duluth on Saturday. The event continues today.

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Staff Intern: John Spruill Hope Thompson, from left, Leo Thomas Basso and Joanie Archer walk around Saturday at Barefoot in the Park in Duluth. The event continues today.

DULUTH -- If nothing else, Charles Goorsky set out on Saturday to be the one person to make Duluth's ninth annual art festival accurate.

Goorsky and his 13-month-old son by the same name, were each barefoot while they listened to the on-stage musical performances and browsed the art at the Barefoot in the Park festival in downtown Duluth.

"I definitely came here and dropped my shoes off," said Goorsky, a Duluth resident who attended his first Barefoot. "I was going to be at least one person to keep the name accurate. I figured I had to be the one representative."

While Goorsky, a drummer, said he's more of a "music dude," if he were to purchase a piece of art, he said it would be in Duluth, which he called the art town of Gwinnett.

Under cloudy skies, Goorsky was one of thousands of attendees to peruse the festival on Saturday, the first day of the two-day event. About 50 artists were on hand in the juried fine arts market, which consisted of paintings, photography, wood art, sculptures and jewelry. The festival continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

A special exhibition of artwork made by students from North Gwinnett, Peachtree Ridge and Duluth high schools was among the highest quality in the festival's history, volunteer Johnnie Rowe said.

"The students' work just gets better all the time, and it's because of the wonderful teachers they have, they're lucky to have them," Rowe said.

Profits from the exhibition go to student scholarships, which totaled $7,500 last year, while artist awards were $6,000. Students who win top prizes take home awards, such as a $250 scholarship for first place, a $50 certificate for second place and a $25 certificate for third place. These students will also have their works hung at the Hudgens Center for the Arts.

Between two stages, several acts plan to perform international routines from Mexico, India, China, Ireland and Taiwan, along with the Gwinnett Community Band, Stone Mountain Chorus, pop singer Norwood, Southern Ballet Theatre and Gene Richards, "The Sax Man."

The timing of the event offers a nice destination to find Mother's Day gifts, Rowe said, and while it has made finding volunteers more difficult, the crowds have grown since the event was moved to this weekend, she said.

Rowe said she travels to art shows everywhere and Barefoot stands alone for its quality and reputation.

"There's not another venue like this," she said. "I've learned the trick of gradually saying to other artists (in Florida), 'I'm from a little town up north called Duluth,' and you know what they say, 'That's the home of Barefoot.' This city turns itself inside and out to make (artists) happy."

The woman at the forefront of that is the founder of Barefoot, Caryn McGarity, who thanked the weather gods for a nice atmosphere.

McGarity said some of the artists of fine artwork reported steady sales, which given the price tag, was a good sign for all involved.

"That makes happy artists and a happy show," McGarity said.

While the event has attracted more artists, McGarity said organizers limit the juried festival to make sure a certain level of quality and professionalism is maintained.

"People appreciate that level," she said.

While Goorsky admitted he's not exactly an art connoisseur, he said, "I don't go anywhere else for art; it's locally exclusive in that regard. If I were to buy a piece of art, it would more than likely attract me here than anywhere else."

Along with the more than $50,000 the nonprofit has granted toward art education, McGarity said she is proud of the adult art education that takes place, which includes hands-on clay, charcoal and painting work.