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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Big: Culture and Arts Festival transforms downtown Gainesville into artistic epicenter

Porter’s Community, South Main Street  brought performances from around Florida Saturday 

Kaelin Ellis performs at BIG: Culture & Arts Festival on Saturday, April 13, 2024.
Kaelin Ellis performs at BIG: Culture & Arts Festival on Saturday, April 13, 2024.

Under the blistering Florida sun, the sound of African percussion and excited attendees echoed throughout downtown Gainesville Saturday as it became a creative space for a multitude of Florida-based artists and trailblazers. 

Gainesville residents and music enthusiasts gathered outdoors at a renovated lot between Porter’s Community and South Main Street Saturday to celebrate “Big: Culture and Arts Festival.” Produced by How Bazar and Dion Dia Records, the festival featured local businesses and more than 50 solo artists and musical collectives playing between two individual stages. 

The 13-hour event featured a skate competition hosted by Samurai SkateShop, sports cars, an open-mic show and photo booths, where guests could be styled by Gainesville fashion designers. 

Laila Fakhoury, co-owner of How Bazar and record label Dion Dia, helped organize the festival. She said it was born out of a desire to bring together Florida’s artistic scene in addition to Gainesville’s community.

“The festival itself is a long-term vision,” Fakhoury said. “That was the epitome of that large-scale event and platform that could create community and represent all of the different forms of culture we were interested in.”

Fakhoury said some of the elements she sought to implement were the automotive scene, fashion, visual art and a multitude of different genres of music ranging from African dance workshops to electronic dance DJ sets.

The festival was sponsored by Gainesville businesses and organizations including The Knot, Visit Gainesville, West Law Firm and Samurai SkateShop. Clothing and graphic design businesses like Hobby attended the event as vendors and gave away skateboards, wooden swords and graphic T-shirts to winners of the skate competition. 

Shands Arts in Medicine attended the event and encouraged guests to participate in bracelet making. Erin Beardslee, the administrative assistant for Shands Arts in Medicine, said they were there to help show the benefits of arts and cultural creations. 

“We’re here today in an effort to help people understand art making and any arts culture is good for your health and can help fight isolation and build community,” Beardslee said. “We’re here today fitting in with the theme of arts and culture and spreading awareness.” 

The day was filled with musical performances and dances by Florida musical talent, including solo artistsCasey Jones II, LADYBOY, Jeremiah Ludicrous and Buboy, as well as bands like Gainesville’s Prizilla.

Isabella Duncan, a 20-year-old UF student, serves as Prizilla’s frontwoman. In addition to vocals, she sported a glistening, purple saxophone that she played during interludes within their set.

Prizilla was one of the first acts to perform at the festival, which Duncan said presented challenges in performing. 

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“It can be hard performing to a smaller crowd because the energy is different,” Duncan said. “But, the crowd itself was positive and welcoming even though it was 2 p.m. and boiling outside without a cloud in the sky.”

McKayla Keels, the bassist for Prizilla, said the festival was special in the way it amplified diversity.

“A really important aspect is that there’s ton of different cultures represented,” Keels said. “There’s a lot of inclusivity here.”

On the other side of the festival, the Florida stage showcased IDM and electronic sets to two groups of attendees: one playing basketball on a goalpost set up by organizers, and the other moving to the rhythms produced by the various DJs throughout the event. 

The festival also featured a range of small businesses, restaurants and vendors. Gainesville restaurants like Germains, known for its crispy chicken sandwiches, and Brazilian Fun Foods gathered in the field with tents and food trucks. 

Jerusalem Street Food also brought a range of homemade dips and dishes like roasted garlic hummus, pita bread and grape leaves. 

Alexa King, a 21-year-old University of South Florida health sciences senior, attended the event while visiting Gainesville and was impressed by the variety of foods from different cultures. 

“The food was really good and affordable,” King said. “It was nice to walk around and see different options and try foods I haven't had before.”

The evening activities included three film screenings provided by The Hippodrome Theatre, Cinemadrome and MAF Center for Advanced Manufacturing Excellence. Inflatable screens and projectors were set up throughout the field, and guests could be found grabbing drinks from the bar and snacks from a concession stand. 

Joe Courter attended the festival to represent the Civic Media Center, a Gainesville nonprofit library, reading room and information shop. He said he was grateful to participate in an event that supported the community. 

“I love what [Big is] bringing to the community,” Courter said. “It’s a matter of supporting …the kind of activities that bring people together and bring people closer,” Courter said. “[Big’s] done a great job of bringing people down to the downtown area people might not go to otherwise.”

Contact Benjamin Miller at bmiller@alligator.org and Alexandra Burns at aburns@alligator.org. Follow them on X @men_mbiller and @alexaburnsuf.

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