Kimco’s shopping centers were active this summer, and our Sodo Shopping Center in Orlando, Florida was no exception. On July 23-26, The Daily City’s 2015 Cardboard Art Festival brought approximately 1,000 people to our center to experience art in a new way.

We caught up with Denna Beena, project manager, and Mark Baratelli, publisher at The Daily City and executive producer for the Cardboard Art Festival, to find out more about how this local art event made a lasting impression in Downtown South Orlando.

Tell us about the Cardboard Art Festival and what inspired the event.

Denna Beena and Mark Baratelli: The event came about when Mark Baratelli met several Orlando artists, including Doug Rhodehamel, who did cardboard art in Orlando. He also noted that artists all over the world work in cardboard. Randomly one day, he thought of the idea of gathering them all together for one big party. And that's how it was born. Pretty organic.

The festival is three days of activities: opening night party, daytime kids’ activities, daytime gallery hours, and one performance night of music or comedy. The art ranges from 18-foot bananas that take up half the room to commentaries on homelessness.

Cardboard in general is an approachable medium for guests. They come in not expecting much, but are curious. "It's just cardboard. What can they do with it?" They leave happy after seeing a gallery full of art. The creativity is tangible in the room.

What are each of your roles in planning and organizing the event?

Beena & Baratelli: This is one of The Daily City's quirky, grassroots signature events. The Daily City (est. 2007) is a local culture blog and monthly newspaper geared toward Orlandoans and covers cool stuff happening in the city. The Daily City pays for everything. Mark is the Publisher and Cardboard Art Festival's Executive Producer. He hires the Project Manager, gives input where needed, and makes sure the event remains at a level of quality he feels guests want. Denna is everything for this project. She is the Project Manager. She executes everything for The Daily City Cardboard Art Festival. She runs the show, reviews artist submissions, answers artist questions, chooses the artists, cleans the venue, lays out and lights the show, hires the DJ, manages contractors – everything.

Why did you pick Kimco’s Sodo Shopping Center as the location?

Beena & Baratelli: It was an organic connection after Mark did The Daily City Pop Up Shop in the Sodo Shopping Center in September 2014. Mark's shop brought 1,375 attendees and 40 new local brands over five days to Sodo. The shopping center offers free parking, awesome event spaces, and walk-by traffic. After a wonderful partnership with Kimco on the shop project, Mark approached them to gauge their interest in him moving his annual event from the Mills 50 District to Sodo. They were interested and the event went off without a hitch.

What makes the Cardboard Art Festival different from other art festivals?

Beena & Baratelli: At its core, the building material. People take cardboard for granted as an artistic medium. Cardboard is easy to attain and easy to deconstruct and manipulate. It provides great texture and support. It can become almost anything, from classic and modern sculpture to traditional paintings to an 18-foot-long cardboard banana. It's a joy to see guests' faces as they walk around. It's usually a look of surprise.

What activities took place during the festival?

Beena & Baratelli: The festival hosted an opening party with a DJ. Hundreds came in and partied, viewed the art, and enjoyed the awesome music, all inside the Sodo Shopping Center. Throughout the weekend there was an interactive public art mural where guests could create their own piece of art and then affix to a larger piece of art that more guests could look at and interact with. Two days were spent letting two non-profit kids’ arts groups lead other kids through various fun and creative art activities.

A professional improv comedy theater did a 45-minute set as well. The event is a base into which the Producer and Project Manager can add almost anything event-wise.

Tell us about some of the artists who participated. How do you determine which artists you bring in?

Beena & Baratelli: We had 23 artists this year. Of them, six were returning artists from past festivals. The new artists that were chosen brought new, never-before-seen things to the festival. Some of the new artists are people Daily City had worked with before on other shows and wanted to try working in cardboard.

  • Michael Smart created Voli Angkor, a kinetic sculpture that everyone fell in love with. It had great movement and created beautiful shadows.
  • Angela Patricia Quintero created an untitled piece that was a study in nests and brought the large sculpture all the way from Miami to be a part of this year’s show.
  • Team Squirrel, which included two returning artists, Rachel and Nicki Gardner, and their employers TKO Advertising Agency, created an interactive and very powerful installation that focused on homelessness.
  • An Orlando artist known as SKIP created an 18-foot-banana that was part of a piece called Explotia. You may have seen him on TV as the banana was lost on its trip home! It has been returned and seemed to have enjoyed a fun journey.
  • Unladylike, an artist collective of three people, created a variety of pieces from small cardboard masks and magnets to larger dioramas. Very colorful and detailed.
  • There were the two “Adams” of the show, Adam Lind and Adam Ressa. Both had worked on an Orlando Fringe show with SAK Comedy Lab where the two of them created all the props and set pieces for Robyn da Hood. When we found out the show had used cardboard, we went to them to have them be a part of the show. Naturally this partnership brought the SAK performers for the improv show that the festival hosted.

We could go on about all of our artists, every one of them brought something awesome to this year’s event.

How did you promote the event to the local community?

Beena & Baratelli: The event is one of the signature events of the Orlando city life blog, The blog was able to get the word out through its own channels (their weekly e-newsletter, their monthly print newspaper, daily blog posts, a Facebook event page, and Twitter mentions). Artists were also asked to spread the word to their fans. Awesome local media partners like Orlando Weekly and Orlando Sentinel gave us pre- and post-event coverage.

We also have a great group of supporters that come every year and we gained lots of new fans this year.

We saw photos hash-tagged #CardboardisAWESOME and #CardboardArtFestival. How did these hashtags come to be? How else did social media play a role leading up to and during the event?

Beena & Baratelli: We created these hashtags and used them in as many locations as we could shove them: on posters, on Facebook event pages, on posters inside the gallery, to name a few. #CardboardisAWESOME is the mantra guests hopefully take away with them after experiencing the event. #CardboardArtFestival is a natural one.

Social media played a big role in marketing the event. The Daily City's Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts were all used to promote the event. Getting a good buzz from big media can be tough, The Daily City depends on itself to put a ton of effort into self-marketing for this event. However, great partners like @downtownsouth always re-shared our posts to their followers, which helps a lot.

Do you plan on hosting more Cardboard Art Festivals in the future?

Beena & Baratelli: Without a doubt, yes. We love this event to the core of our beings. Making something from nothing and building on the energy of guests, artists, and the community is an amazing feeling. Giving back to Orlando through creativity and organization is a wonderful business to be in. Even during the 2015 event, the organizers were making plans for 2016 based on guest feedback and what the organizers were observing. Also, a spin-off event to take place at a different time in 2015 is in the works.

Any advice for others looking to host events at their local shopping centers?

Beena & Baratelli: For the event producers: Respect, respect, respect. Respect the shopping center's needs. Respect their rules. Respect the tenants who are your neighbors during the time you're there. Just respect everyone there. You are the interloper. You need to lead with respect above anything else. This is their property, you're on their turf, and just lead with respect always.

At the end of the day, shopping centers want their properties full of tenants and shoppers. If someone like The Daily City can assist, even in a small way, in those two goals, then consider working with them.

Also, once shopping centers have relationships with entities like The Daily City, do not hesitate to reach out to them for other ideas and events. If you come across something you'd like to see in your shopping center, send the idea along and see if they're interested in executing it.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Beena & Baratelli: Sodo is awesome, Downtown South Orlando is awesome, and of course, #CardboardisAWESOME!

This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.