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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Historic Black neighborhood honored in 43rd annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival

The event continues throughout Sunday

Vivian Filer, executive director of the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, speaks at a reception to begin Gainesville's 43rd-annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival Friday, April 28, 2023.
Vivian Filer, executive director of the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, speaks at a reception to begin Gainesville's 43rd-annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival Friday, April 28, 2023.

Under a sea of colorful pop-up tents, dozens of vendors brought out hair wraps, paintings and signs while around 100 attendees danced to the “Cupid Shuffle.”

With bounce houses and a line of tasty food trucks, the celebration of Gainesville’s Black neighborhoods and community began.

The Cultural Arts Coalition hosted the second day of its 43rd-annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival Saturday. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., attendees browsed vendors selling cultural items, singing performances and a variety of local-made art.

The festival is held each year to celebrate Fifth Avenue, the city’s oldest Black neighborhood, according to Gainesville Neighborhoods United. The event began with a reception Friday night and will continue through Sunday evening.

NKwanda Jah, executive director of the Cultural Arts Coalition, said it’s been incredible to see the festival grow from hosting one vendor to 89. With this platform, she said, they hope to bring practical knowledge to the community.

“We’ve always tried to use the festival as a way to bring our community together around certain issues,” she said.

At the event Saturday, organizations like the Community Weather Coalition offered practical pamphlets — instructions on how to save money on utilities by reducing energy output in the home. Others championed Black history education in schools.

A new addition to the festival was the Patricia Hilliard-Nunn Cultural Ambassador Award, given in honor of the local historian, community activist and dancer of the same name who died in 2020

Caleb Little-Thomas, a junior at the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, received the award. Jah anticipated someone older winning the award, she said, but Little-Thomas’ list of achievements — ranging from musical talent to essay writing — made him a perfect fit.

“It’s going to be hard finding somebody for next year,” she said.

To further honor the festival’s legacy, the opening reception included a reading of Mayor Harvey Ward’s LaVern Porter proclamation. LaVern Porter-Mitchell was a local figure who pioneered dance within the community despite growing up in a Gainesville that wouldn’t teach her due to segregation.

She continually performed and taught others in the community before she died in December 2022 at 72. The proclamation established her birthday, April 18, as a local holiday.

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Beyond recognizing Gainesville’s historical figures and impact, the event was an opportunity for locals to sell traditional African outfits, body adornments, hair wraps and more.

For others, it was an opportunity to show off their talent.

Alyne Harris, an 80-year-old Gainesville artist, has attended the festival since its onset and painted nature imagery since she was a child. Her pieces ranged from $35-600. While she was there to sell, she said the unity of the city’s people kept her coming back each year.

“It brings the community together,” she said.

While local businesses are present in droves, it seems that for businesses and local figures alike, the event thrives due to its reverence for the city’s rich Black culture and history.

Vivian Filer is the CEO of Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, a local museum dedicated to African-derived culture and history. She’s attended the festival since its first year and said it continues to demonstrate how multi-faceted the Black community is locally.“This festival has drawn together the culture and the impact of black history every year,” Filer said.

Contact Aidan Bush at abush@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.


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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Engagement Managing Editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he likes to listen to music and go kayaking.


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