The arts festival was conceived in 1972 by a group of art patrons who wanted to expand the gatherings of local artists displaying their work in the downtown area. The “Great Gulfcoast” moniker was suggested by News Journal editor J. Earle Bowden to give the event a regional identity. The first festival was held in September 1973 in the parking lot of the Municipal Auditorium that stood at the south end of Palafox Stree where Plaza de Luna is now. The Festival later moved to Plaza Ferdinand before settling in its current home in Seville Square.
The festival has only been canceled once, in 2004, due to the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Ivan .