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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Gainesville art scene pushes for more outreach to underserved communities

Community shares ways people can get involved

Bella Rootz pictured at the Hector Gallery on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.
Bella Rootz pictured at the Hector Gallery on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.

Bella Rootz, a 34-year-old Gainesville artist, moved from Pennsylvania to Village Green at 12 years old with a clear goal: She was going to be an artist. 

“Art to me is so sacred — it’s therapy, it’s a way to bring community together,” Rootz said. 

Rootz said growing up in Village Green, a neighborhood in East Gainesville and an impoverished environment, pushed her toward that goal, helping her break a stigma of scarcity and fear. She believes Gainesville has flourished with artistic opportunities, but these opportunities don’t always reach communities beyond the university bubble. 

“A lot of things here are centered around the universities and the college students, but there is a lot of hidden talent within people who didn't make it to college,” she said.

Arts and culture are present in Gainesville through museums, exhibits and music venues scattered around the city. Further developments like a cultural arts center in East Gainesville could continue catering to the expansion, providing people with a place to turn to for support.

Community members are concerned more outreach needs to be done to fully immerse underserved communities into art outlets. There are opportunities for people to seek support through the arts, but the accessibility can vary.

Gainesville’s Cultural Affairs Division Manager Carol Velasques-Richardson said recent renovations of Oakview Community Center, at 10 NW Eighth Ave., through the city’s Wild Spaces and Public Places program can help use the space to showcase free art and implement interaction programs for both adults and children.

“We're wanting to put programs in here whether it's art, music, storytelling, quilting,” she said. 

She said the city wants to create more interactive spaces to serve as accessible creative outlets where people of all skill levels can participate. 

Velasques-Richardson also said the city has tried to listen to residents through a series of workshops to assess what the community wants to see more of. 

“They told us they want to see ceramics, they want to see art, and so we are just trying to build those programs,” she said. 

Beyond city resources, Gainesville’s art scene is also pursuing outreach through entrepreneurship, partnerships and exposure.

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Mateo Puig, a 43-year-old Gainesville native and co-founder of Seven Ashes Production, said Gainesville's expansive art scene can be accessible to all, but working to establish a more profound human connection could ease the fear of pursuing art and limitation of resources from underserved communities.

“The only thing that's going to stop you is the fear of success because it can be scary to get that opportunity,” he said.

Puig said it can be challenging to escape a mentality of fear, but the art scene is meant to uplift, not limit. His experience as a Puerto Rican artist and establishing himself in Gainesville made him further understand that, he said. 

“It's about stepping out and meeting people, and this town is small enough to where it's one degree of separation,” he said.

Puig creates marketing videos for smaller businesses and startups. He and his team want to encourage entrepreneurship, he said, because he believes more marketing could bring more attention from potential customers who don't often hear about new businesses or events. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship, he said.

“Being an artist and starting and seeing a group of people willing to rally around you and put something up regardless of the outcome, is encouragement,” Puig said. “Most of the time you're getting doors shut in your face. It's very rare when you get a door that opens that says ‘all expenses paid.’”

Artists can also gather more recognition through partnerships with the city and county.

Assistant County Manager Gina Peebles said Alachua County’s Public Art Loan and Display can be helpful for an artist to start. The program allows artists to loan their work and have it on display at the Alachua Chamber of Commerce for three months.

Currently, the works of Valorie Campos, an artist who passed away, are being displayed after her family applied for the program to honor Campos’ work.  

“We can give her a little recognition and her work can be seen by people attending our board meetings, and then also on TV,” Peebles said.

Peebles also mentioned the county’s annual art conferences, with the third taking place May 3. The conferences are open to everyone and are structured to facilitate outreach; a speaker at this year’s conference is Dance Alive, a professional ballet company, which announced a capital campaign to start construction of a new building, making the public aware of a new artistic space available.

Community members also believe creating hands-on exposure could elevate the art scene and break barriers to access. 

Desean “CEO DEE” Thompson is a 39-year-old Gainesville music producer for Go Legit Entertainment who uses his platform to encourage new artists to showcase their talents. 

Thompson said exposure and interaction is a good way for people to understand what resources are available to them. He recalls connecting with a UF professor and inviting his students to tour the studio. 

“I got to explain to them what I do and how things work,” he said. “Teaching a group of students: That was cool.”

Carla Lewis, a 52-year-old Gainesville resident and a contributing member of SPARC352, said it’s important to be present with underserved communities and create a trusting dynamic.

“[We needed] a program that was culturally relevant that was in close proximity to gentrified neighborhoods where we can help not teach, but show how art is used as a mechanism for healing,” she said.

SPARC352, short for Space for People, Arts, Research and Creativity, is a community-based initiative started by UF’s Center for Arts in Medicine, Shand’s Center for Arts in Medicine and Center for Arts, Migration and Entrepreneurship. It is used to bring art and cultural resources into underserved neighborhoods and has done work in Porters, Duvall, Fifth Avenue, Lincoln Estate and Springhill.

Lewis said it’s important to not only bring these opportunities over but also to ensure it’s a consistent effort.

“One thing we were adamant about is doing our due diligence of making sure that the work is sustainable, so we don't do harm,” she said.

Lewis said SPARC352 was awarded $750,000 through the Mellon Foundation. All funds will be going toward elevating community interaction. He said it’s important to emphasize the power art has to touch people through physical, mental and emotional health.

“We’re interested in the healing mechanism of it,” she said. 

Rootz said that’s what art did for her. 

She displayed her art at Hector Framing and Gallery Feb. 23 through Art Flow, an exhibition event organized every last Friday of the month by the gallery to showcase the work of local artists. She said she’s always happy to observe people’s reactions and admiration.

She said she’s reminded of the everlasting effects art has had in her life.

“People don't realize that creativity is an outlet for all of that — even poverty,” she said. “Creativity is a way that you can get out of that.”

Contact Nicole Beltran at nbeltran@alligator.org. Follow her on X @nicolebeltg.

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Nicole Beltran

Nicole Beltran is a second-year journalism and economics major. This is her first semester as the race and equity reporter. She has previously worked as a translator and editor for El Caimán. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, trying new foods and drawing.


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