I once wrote a weekly column for the Gainesville Sun called “Gallery” where I attempted to cover the visual arts news. Once a year in the fall I had to encapsulate the arts scene for their “Welcome Back” issue. It was a running nightmare.
Why? The Art Scene here is vast and deep, wonderfully interwoven and impossibly complex. You will love it but its hard to define! We have a full spectrum of art exhibits, academic classes and workshops, cooperatives, plus a myriad of events and festivals. The University of Florida, Santa Fe College and the community at large each contribute a full, ongoing schedule while also collaborating for art walks, studio tours, exhibitions and public projects. The community is open and welcoming to both artists and art patrons.
Beginning with the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art where you’ll find national and international exhibitions in several galleries, the Museums own renowned collection of Asian Art in the new David A. Cofrin Asian Wing, weekly “Museum Night” programs, an academic lecture and film series, studio classes, docent led tours- a docent training program, and even a ‘tot time’- for our youngest artists! The “Harn” has a membership well worth joining for its many benefits. Its located in the UF Cultural Plaza next to the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Performing Arts Center. I frequently teach drawing at the “Harn” and also take my young students to the FMNH to sketch. One of the best kept secrets about art here- is just how much art is produced in the Florida Museum of Natural History! The Museum has a staff of painters and sculptures who create exhibitions and paint amazing backdrop murals, bringing to life various Florida ecosystems including a Florida cave deep in a hammock!
The University’s College of Fine Arts has several University Gallery spaces on campus and its own lecture series. Add to that monthly exhibits in “the gallery” in the UF Reitz Union and there is always something new and interesting. “The Loop” is a great, free e-newsletter produced by the College of Fine Arts with all the happenings. The College frequently partners with other community venues to offer patrons a package of tickets providing choices for a variety of cultural experiences.
We are a major medical community and so we’re pioneering some innovative art-health connections. “Arts In Medicine” is a renowned program which brings artists and the role of the creative process into the hospital to interact with patients and staff. Through out the community, you will find health/art influences.
Santa Fe College has a very popular visual arts community and is a favorite choice for those seeking to study. The SFC Gallery provides the community with several major openings throughout the year while the President’s Gallery frequently showcases community artists. SFC also produces the beloved annual SFC Spring Arts Festival held on historic N.E. 1st Street.
The Community offers opportunities to join several organizations and cooperatives including The Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center and The Artisans’ Guild Gallery both located downtown. The Gainesville Fine Arts Association produces their GFAA Art Festival at Thornebrook each Fall along with their Winter Fine Art Fair at Tioga. Thornebrook Village sports quarterly “Art Hops” to showcase its several art spaces and local bistros in addition to the monthly “ArtWalks” which feature a wonderful variety of established spaces that fill downtown with crowds the last Friday of each month.
The City of Gainesville has a working studio program in The Tench Studios which shares a building with Sweetwater Print Co-Operative downtown. The City also produces the annual Downtown Arts Festival which takes over downtown one weekend in November and brings in artists and patrons for a major event. The City’s own art space, The Thomas Center Gallery is located in the historic Thomas Center walking distance from downtown. Artists also rent the historic building and gardens for holiday shows and “plein air” events.
Speaking of plein air events; Gainesville is widely considered the southeastern epicenter of plein air landscape painting. In 2002 Florida’s Eden introduced Paintouts to the area and the movement took off! A Paintout happens when artists who paint “plein air” (on location in the fresh air) converge in a single location and set up their easels for several days. The spontaneity of inviting the public to watch paintings being created- quickly led to people buying the newly created work “wet off the easels!” Paintouts happen frequently as our region’s breath taking vistas and historic hamlets are now famous among the State’s landscape painters. In fact the Florida contemporary landscape movement has been energized greatly by the addition of Paintout events here. You will love them!
Of our nearby small villages, Melrose is emerging as the arts town. The Melrose Bay Gallery, Bellamy Road and the new Gallery 26 coordinate excellent exhibits which make for fun excursions to this lakeside historic hamlet. High Springs, our outfitter village is a jumping off place for exploring the Florida’s Eden Springs Region also has a local arts scene worth exploring. The High Springs Art Coop spotlights local and regional artists.
You’ll discover that just as the desert southwest, northern California and Maine have a local look and feel; there is a “color palette and local light” here in our springs region. This part of Florida is home for an unusual concentration of artists who are attracted by the quality of the place itself. We value this remarkable place and so you’ll discover the proactive efforts to preserve what distinguishes our region are led by the arts community. The artists, photographers, film makers, musicians and writers are using their work to portray this area with the intent that the public will be inspired and engaged to participate in various conservation efforts. Its through the arts that we are now a community that understands the additional, economic value of what defines and distinguishes us here.
Don’t miss “Primavera Florida” a month long celebration of the peak of our sublime, spring season, March 20th through April 22nd when all of the spaces I’ve listed collaborate together to showcase our arts scene. Primavera was created to gather our existing events and create a bigger cultural story so we can reach a wider audience and put Gainesville on the map as a cultural destination. Its a heady month!
I have once again only scratched the surface of the town’s rich art personality. Welcome to Gainesville’s visual arts community. Explore the many links offered here and you’ll discover a diverse and delicious menu of offerings to savor- year round!
Annie Pais, artist and executive director of Florida’s Eden