Under the Harm Museum of Art’s rotunda, jazz music and soft whispers echoed throughout the maze of exhibits.
The atmosphere was much more lively than a typical day at the museum. A sense of excitement filled the space, emphasized by the large crowds coming together to celebrate art and music.
Although museum staff considered it one of their slower nights, more than 200 visitors enjoyed the Harn’s wide selection of unique exhibits, free food, wine and live music during its ninth weekly Arts After Dark event Thursday night.
The National Council of Black Studies brought 50 people from across the country to participate in the event. It was some guests’ first time visiting UF, making it a great way for the museum to welcome them to campus and showcase its appreciation for Black history and culture. Exhibits such as Elusive Spirits: African Masquerades featured pieces from private collections from West and Central Africa.
Patricia Reid-Merritt, an Africana studies professor at Richard Stockton College in Galloway, New Jersey, traveled with the council to Gainesville.
“It’s nice to be able to see a collection of such wonderful prints and images — and one that highlights Black beauty is an exceptional opportunity,” Reid-Merritt said. “It doesn’t happen all the time … You usually have to seek it out in museums.”
After a successful first event Jan. 5, Arts After Dark has taken place at the Harn’s rotunda every Thursday from 6-9 p.m.
Because of a private $300,000 grant, the Harn can sustain Arts After Dark for the next two years, Director of Visitor Engagement Salina Cardias said.
The grant has allowed the museum, which typically closes at 6 p.m., to extend its hours and pay for event services and the staff’s additional working hours, said Claire Busansky, the Harn’s security and visitor engagement assistant.
Busansky, a 19-year-old UF freshman, described Thursday’s event as one of the museum’s more “lowkey nights.”
“By offering additional hours, we are hoping to bring in people who might work during the day or be in school during the day,” Cardias said. The museum’s main goal with the event is to attract new people — mainly adults and working professionals.
Director of Marketing and Public Relations Tami Wroath said the additional hours every week make the museum more accessible to visitors.
“We want to provide the community with plenty of opportunities to view our exhibitions and also provide a welcoming atmosphere to relax and meet up with friends,” she said.
Many guests attending the event said their favorite part of the night was the music and dancing.
The live music and outgoing musicians helped maintain the spirits of visitors and kept them entertained and engaged throughout the night.
As the night went on, four middle-aged couples could be seen dancing together and laughing. One elderly man dressed in a suit and fedora offered to teach several women how to dance, awkwardly holding one young woman’s hands as he attempted to teach her the steps.
Nisreen Kalai, a 19-year-old freshman from the New College of Florida, visited the event on her Spring Break with her sister, a senior at UF. “It’s really cute how there's couples dancing out there, and it makes looking at photos more engaging because it's not quiet,” said Kalai.
Live music was performed by jazz trio Decyo and the Newcombs. The band brought a sense of enthusiasm to the night, chatting with guests and answering questions after each set.
Decyo McDuffie, 23, is the band's main singer and a UF master’s student. “Playing jazz music helps him connect with the audience,” he said.
“I love the connection aspect between the songs with the art and the people,” McDuffie said.
The event was catered by Blue Gill Quality Food, which offered wine and snacks like mini ricotta tea sandwiches. Cardias helped organize the event’s music and catering.
“I love working with Blue Gill and Mildred’s catering, so I reached out to them to plan the food,” she said. “I've just been trying to find local bands around town, and I just reach out to them personally and let them know what the event is about and see if they're interested in it.”
Alex Abolverdi, 29, served drinks throughout the night. His favorite part about working there was the atmosphere, he said.
The next Arts After Dark event will be held March 30. The night will feature folk music by the Front Porch Backsteppers bluegrass band and is open to all visitors interested.
Contact Alexandra at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @alexaburnsuf.