Community members came together at Roper Park, surrounded by music and artistry, to celebrate their neighborhood and the unity created by the upcoming city-planned greenway corridor.
Sarah’s Sweetwater Greenway Loop Festival, which took place Feb. 16- 20, expanded across five historic neighborhoods in Gainesville where the city approved a greenway, or a strip of land dedicated to recreational use, to connect them.
The event was named after Sarah McKnight, a local African-American business owner who was often overlooked during her time in the 1950s. McKnight, who passed away in 1987, was an advocate for community and the existence of shared spaces where people could come together despite differences and create art.
Sunday morning’s event took place in Roper Park in Duckpond and featured neighborhood singers, food, and artists, among these being NKwanda Jah, the Cultural Arts Coalition’s executive director.
“We started work with the community through the NAACP that was doing work in the garden in the Fifth Avenue community,” Jah said.
Founded in 1979 as a nonprofit organization, the Coalition’s purpose is to educate and empower the community through programs about arts, culture and community awareness. Jah helped found the organization.
The coalition was founded after doing work in the Fifth Avenue area and noticing gentrification beginning to take shape in the city. They started the Fifth Avenue Art Festival as a way to highlight the gentrification of student housing that was pushing people out of the community in 1979.
Jah was running the Coalition’s informative booth in Roper Park Sunday morning, sharing stories of her time working with the coalition and educating local community members about the importance of events like the Greenway Loop Festival.
“We need more events like this in the community about the environment,” Jah said. “We use the arts to get people out, and then when they are we get to talk to them about gentrification.”
Self-described hobbyist-turned-business owner, 23-year-old Nicole Nicotera, lives in a land of lore. Her clay-creations, including bow-tied frogs, cats with hats and elemental frogs, live within the Heartwood Forest, Nicotera’s fictional universe where her work exists.
Nicotera originally started this project as a hobby around six months ago, and she started attending local events shortly after. She said she has seen a really positive reception of her work from the community.
“I don't know if it's just Gainesville or what, but it's been friendly,” Nicotera said. “There's no one who's been harsh to me.”
Nicotera’s main events have been the UF Craft Festival and Bat Fest, but she was originally approached by one of the organizers for the Greenway Loop Festival two weeks prior while selling at an event run by How Bazar. Though it was short notice, Nicotera said she was excited to share her work with the local community, and noted how nice it was to see everyone there be excited about her work.
The festival was led in collaboration with neighborhood leaders and Spatially Fed, an artist collective founded by Harley O’Neill.
O’Neill got involved with the event after attending focus groups led by Thriving Cities Group. These focus groups discussed human ecology, a six endowment framework that focuses on the needs of the community and ways that cities can work together to thrive.
As her presence grew, O’Neill was asked to join the festival as a project manager and started working with local neighborhoods that would be connected by the Sweetwater Greenway.
“The rest of the community working with Thriving Cities have this idea,” O’Neill said. “I want to promote this idea of turning the greenway, this linear path, into a greenway loop that connects more of us downtown.”
The neighborhood leaders have really brought the event to life, she said. The event has allowed Spatially Fed to interact with the community and help them envision what the greenway could be like. The collective promotes the intersection of artists and community, using shared spaces and materials in their creations.
“[They would] learn how they could become neighborhood captains to put on their own neighborhood festival that celebrates the uniqueness of their neighborhood,” O’Neill said.
Contact Gracey at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @graceydavis_.
Gracey Davis is a third-year journalism major and a writer for The Avenue. She is also minoring in theatre. When she's not writing, she loves reading, spending time with her friends, and listening to way too much One Direction.