By Hannah Wallace
The 2021 Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival returns to Siesta Key public beach this month, Nov. 12 to 15. After it was canceled last year due to COVID-19, the annual celebration of Siesta’s sensational sand will once again highlight professional master sand sculptors from around the world. This year’s event is set to draw upwards of 20,000 visitors.
Founded in 2010 by Siesta native and master sand sculptor Brian Wigelsworth, the Crystal Classic quickly became a favorite on the sand-sculpting circuit. This year, Wigelsworth has relinquished hosting duties in order to enter the competition himself; his business partner and protégé Andy Daily, also a master sculptor, is leading the event in partnership with the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce.
The professional competition is by invite-only, though the festival also includes a Saturday amateur competition as well as lessons and demonstrations for aspiring sand sculptors.
“It took me 10 years to become a master-category sculptor. It’s not like you can just show up and think you’re going to be invited to compete,” said Daily. “It takes a lot of work.”
Despite some COVID-19–related travel bans in other parts of the world, Daily believes they’ve put together an exceptional international field this year — including some past winners looking to repeat.
During the festival, eight solo artists and eight teams of two will compete to create towering, intricate and unbelievably eye-catching sculptures out of Siesta’s 99 percent quartz sand. The ephemeral nature of the medium is part of the appeal, according to Daily.
“Sand is cheap. Water is cheap. Instead of a $20,000 block of marble I’ve got a free block of sand,” he said. “You can get the feel of a grand project right here. We make these huge monstrosities out of blocks of sand.”
The professional competitors have three eight-hour days and one four-hour day to finish their projects. Sculptures will be judged on plot usage, composition, and how technically difficult the design is in terms of height, realism and overhangs. Siesta’s sand actually adds to the difficulty factor when it comes to emphasizing details.
“Siesta has this startling white crystal sand. (The artists) have to make some pretty deep cuts to create the shadows,” Daily explained. Deeper cuts increase the risk of dreaded collapses.
While Daily won’t be competing, he has designed the event’s centerpiece sculpture as well as a photo-opportunity sculpture where visitors can pose for pictures. The Crystal Classic’s photo op pieces have traditionally been holiday-themed so families can use the image on their Christmas cards.
Daily has also designed the event’s layout specifically to promote social distancing. Wider walkways encourage flow and keep people moving.
On Saturday night, the festival area will be open after dark so the sculptures can be viewed under theatrical lighting. In addition to the sand sculptures, the festival features food trucks, merchandise booths, live music and the Barefoot Beach Bar Party Tent.
One-day tickets and four-day passes are available at siestakeycrystalclassic.com, with discounts for seniors, children and military service members. Parking is limited, so visitors are encouraged to use the free Siesta Key Breeze Trolley or Sarasota County’s OnDemand service, available at scgov.net/ondemand or (941) 300-1553.
“Don’t be in a hurry. Just come out, have fun, and relax,” said Daily. “And be prepared to have the best day of your year.”