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The Earth Without Art is Just Meh

The Earth Without Art is Just Meh

Bold, boundless, with depth and saturated with talent, Greater Gainesville weaves its creativity into a fine art tapestry that any city in America would be proud to call their own. Providing the cultural foundation are the University of Florida and Santa Fe College. Adding to that base is a distinguished fine arts framework that consists of Dance Alive National Ballet, the Hippodrome Theatre, The Gainesville Orchestra and Gainesville’s most recent addition, the Cade Museum of Creativity and Invention.

“Alachua County has an incredibly robust and diverse, deep field of culture,” said Jessica Hurov, Visit Gainesville/Alachua’s tourism development manager. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have everything from free Friday night concerts at Bo Diddley Plaza to the refined performances that The Gainesville Orchestra provides and everything in between.

“This only scratches the surface,” Hurov said. “From theaters in High Springs, productions at the Hippodrome and groups gathering in historic Micanopy, all nine municipalities in Alachua County contribute culturally to our county.” “What you get in this area is really something that other cities with 10 to 20 times more people would be envious of,” said Brian Jose, Director of the University of Florida Performing Arts, which oversees the Phillip’s Center for the Performing Arts, University Auditorium and Baughman Center venues.

Cultural foundation

The College of the Arts is the fine arts college of the University of Florida (UF). Established in 1975, it offers bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degree programs in its three fully-accredited schools made up of the School of Art and Art History, School of Music and School of Theatre and Dance. You will find nearly every year UF ranks amongst the nation’s top 10 universities. The College of the Arts secures its own notable standings. In 2020, U.S. News & World Report placed it in the Top 50 Graduate Schools for Fine Arts. also placed them in their top 50 saying, “they provide the knowledge and experience you will need to fulfill your dreams of creating for a living.” Santa Fe College (SF) received the Aspen Prize in 2015, placing them in the No. 1 position amongst community colleges in the country. They have continued to remain in the top 10 since 2012.

Santa Fe College’s Visual Arts Program, like UF, has a faculty of professional, practicing artists who provide instruction and advisement for more than 225 Visual Arts majors. These students are readied to continue their studies successfully, both within the state university system and at institutions nationwide. Dance Alive National Ballet, The Hippodrome and The Gainesville Orchestra have all created programs within and for SF and continue to do so today. SF Fine Arts students can be seen year-round in professional-level public performances and exhibitions for which they have been groomed and carefully guided by the talented dance, music, theater and visual arts faculty.

“We’re fortunate that we have such a strong grounding in education,” Hurov said. “They (UF and SF) send their students out into the community. They perform on our stages; they take part in musical productions, and they appreciate and are an integrated part of our cultural community. They are, without doubt, cultural jewels.”

Fine Arts Framework

Cultivated over 70 years or more, Gainesville’s profound fine artistic talent provides the framework that anchor our creative community. With hundreds of years of professional experience, Dance Alive National Ballet, the Hippodrome Theatre and The Gainesville Orchestra have all built national and international reputations on the foundation of our educational institutions.

Dance Alive National Ballet

Dance Alice National Ballet has created over 250 ballets, sustained an international roster of award-winning dancers who live and work in Gainesville and has been on the State Touring Roster of Florida for 39 consecutive years. A company of 18 dancers from around the globe, DANB professionals come from the elite ballet companies of Russia, Ukraine, Cuba, Japan and the United States.

It is hard to talk about DANB without acknowledging the Pofahl sisters, directors and owners, Judy Skinner and Kim Tuttle. They have been the creative masterminds of the classic ballet repertory company for the past 35 years. “Starting out as a little civic company. We charged $10 a performance. Then $50,” Tuttle said. As they gained notoriety and a booking organization, they started touring. Tours include 20 states and the countries of Costa Rica, Bulgaria, Russia and Cuba. Three years ago, they received an invitation to the prestigious International Ballet Festival in New York City. DANB was appreciated equally alongside the New York City Ballet and others of the same pedigree.

Natives of Gainesville, these local sisters graduated from the Alachua County public school system and the University of Florida. Distinguished alum of UF, Skinner has a B.A. and M.A. in Education and has been a teacher throughout the community. From elementary school to an adjunct professor at UF, she also is responsible for developing and staffing Santa Fe College’s new dance program. Sister Kim, executive artistic director and choreographer-in-residence at DANB, a chamber pianist and also a UF graduate, has profoundly impacted DANB and the status of the visual arts in the region. Under her tutelage, the ballet is vital, energetic and artistically innovative. Tuttle has also shared her wealth of talents with the education facilities in our area. She served as a staff pianist at UF and initiated the original ballet program at Santa Fe College. “The Hipp, The Gainesville Orchestra and Dance Alive all were coming up about the same time. We fed off of each other’s energy. We collaborated and supported each other along the way,” Tuttle said.

“Gainesville is such a prolific artistic city,” said Tuttle who has created over 150 ballets. “We have extraordinary visual artists, including Margaret Tolbert, William Schaff, Ellie Blair and Pulitzer Prize–nominated poet Lola Haskins.” All drawn to the level of education that the university propels.” She also adds, “There’s wonderful musicians here as well, like Kevin Sharp who placed first in the world at the International Bach Competition.” Once asked to direct the Sarasota Ballet, Tuttle clearly said, “Nope.” Telling us, “I love it here. I want to be in my home city.” Also, “We (Tuttle and husband Jim) have formed a huge support system here, outside of the arts, just as human beings. I love the community of Gainesville.” Looking forward to the next incarnation of Dance Alive, Skinner and Tuttle will reluctantly turn over the reins to DANB in 2022. They will semi-retire as they continue as educators and choreographers at the Pofahl Dance Studio. The studio has been serving the community for 64 years, teaching children 3 and up tap, toe, classical ballet, hip hop, boys dance, conditioning and partnering. As Tuttle said, “Once it is in your blood, it’s in your blood.”

Hippodrome Theatre

In 1972, six UF theatre majors built the structure for the Hippodrome Theatre. Consisting of Palladium classical revival architecture and six carved Corinthian limestone columns, it is hard to imagine that this was the vision of, at the time, a group of self-proclaimed “hippies”. Mary and Greg Hausch, Marilyn Wall, Kerry McKinney, Bruce Cornwell and Orin Wechsberg started the theatre at an abandoned 7-Eleven. Sheer youth, creativity, ambition and perseverance have forged a path for the multi-million-dollar budget, world-class theatrical destination that is the Hipp today. Celebrating their 49th year, the Hipp produces eight main stage productions annually. The Lower Level! second stage has programs and events such as the Jazz Series, improv comedy nights, concerts, swing dance classes, open mic sessions and much more. That is not all, The Hipp has an art gallery featuring local photography, paintings, fine art photography, glass art, sculpture and other types of visual art. Plus, it includes art-house cinema, bringing 700 of the latest independent films, documentaries, critically-acclaimed world cinema and more each year to the Hipp. Original founders and college roommates, Mary Hausch and Marilyn Wall, stayed the course for more than 40 years, transforming the Hipp and the landscape of visual arts in North Central Florida. Creating thousands of costumes throughout the years Wall, who reportedly could not sew a stitch at age 22, later dressed thousands of actors, won two Emmy awards for costume design and even made costumes for Angelina Jolie for the film, “Without Evidence.” Sidestepping med school, Wall’s partner Hausch became an actor at UF her junior year. Fifty roles later and 150 world and regional premieres under her direction, Hausch has filled the 256-seat theatre with millions of theatre goers.

“We really were the catalyst for development of the arts here in Gainesville,” Hausch said in a 2009 article. “I think the Hippodrome starting and people seeing that success has really encouraged other artists.”

Today, the Hipp provides the most extensive cultural programming available in the region, bringing eight plays, hundreds of film screenings, 10 festivals, 16 Guest Artists Talkbacks, 12 visual arts exhibitions and hundreds of other programs each year. The Hippodrome has also provided many opportunities for the community with co-productions with their Theatre for Young Audiences Program and the UF School of Theatre and Dance. The partnership of Wall and Hausch brought theatre in Greater Gainesville to a world-class level. Prominent playwrights including Tennessee Williams have graced this local stage. “I’m amazed sometimes when I walk in here, the impact it’s had on the community,” Hausch said in a 2011 article.

The Gainesville Orchestra

Gainesville Orchestra came together in 1983 with a 34-member ensemble. Now totaling more than 55 professional members, TGO performs five concerts annually at The Philips Center. Their mission continues: entertain, enrich and educate a diverse and broad-based audience through the presentation of quality programs in the traditional and contemporary repertoire. Internationally acclaimed Maestro Evans Haile increased the tempo in 2001. The music director and conductor and part of the Gainesville community has been recognized across the United States and Europe. A regular guest conductor of the Boston POPS Orchestra, Moscow Philharmonic, Melbourne Symphony of Australia, Baltimore Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Florida Orchestra and many others, he helped put TGO on the list of the top art institutions in North Central Florida. Performing at the Kennedy Center, TGO has had special guest artists including Kennedy Center honoree and legendary pianist Leon Fleisher. In addition, it is the only Florida Orchestra to be broadcast on public radio throughout the region. In 1989, the orchestra created the Youth Concert Series, resulting in a Family Concert every season. Conductor Haile believes that, “close community relations go hand-in-hand with successful arts institutions.” He has made educational and outreach programs one of the primary tools in gaining support within the community.

“Music nourishes our souls, comforts our spirits and provides unique opportunities for us to come together.” ~ The Gainesville Orchestra

The Cade Museum of Creativity and Invention

Through the art of invention and with a staff of 25, the Cade Museum of Creativity and Invention uses the legacy of Dr. James Robert Cade to bring the whole world of exploration and invention to you. Dr. Cade invented Gatorade in 1965. In Cade’s honor, the museum embraces and educates through invention. The Cade uses STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics – to help you explore concepts in a unique way, highlighting cutting-edge and emerging technologies and tracing them back to their original invention. Dr. Cade’s dehydration deterring invention is just one example of the evolution of an invention and how it affects future generations. Sweat Solution shows the science of Gatorade and the important impact the innovation had on our world.

Also at the Cade, visitors are linked to the international space station, and children and adults alike enjoy story time with the astronauts – from space! Every eight weeks new exhibits promote inventions, like photography and robotics. You can end each visit with hands-on experiments in the Creativity Lab or The Fab Lab. The latter takes you through the world of 3-D printing, where you can create your own inventions and see inventions come to life via 3-D printers. Also, you have the opportunity to become immersed in virtual reality. The Cade Museum is doing a lot with education, including bringing the educational program, Operation Full Stream to Alachua elementary schools. The program starts with 2nd Graders and continues with them through the 5th Grade. In the two years since the Cade Museum has been open, they’ve been able to inspire 10,000 field trip students. That’s why the Cade has partnered with WUFT/PBS with Cade at Home. Hoping to reach all little inventors, they air up to 5-minute STEAM video lessons and activity segments regularly between scheduled children’s programming. Watch them now at:

The Details Make the Difference

Like crown molding, hardwood floors and hardware for the home, it’s the details that make the difference! The same is true for a community. It’s the details – the grass roots organizations, the galleries, the art festivals, the bands and choruses, the special events, the children’s performances, the volunteers – these are the essentials that make the art and culture of Alachua County special.

Arts Council of Alachua County

The Arts County of Alachua County fits this description, literally coloring in the unreached areas. No community is overlooked in Greater Gainesville and the ACAC makes sure this rings true. Keeping arts vibrant throughout the whole of Alachua County is their mission. Organizations like this give the region its uniqueness. ACAC provides educational training – whether it’s social media or navigating through the grant system – to individuals or groups.

“What the ACAC is doing is allowing hard working artists, such as sculptors, to make a living for themselves,” says ACAC Chair, Carol Velasques Richardson.

Also, this inspires those who have always wanted to be an artist that didn’t think they could make a living, according to Richardson. Lifelong lover of the arts and entertainment, and theatre director (with 60 productions under her belt) in addition to Chair, Richardson states, “Alachua County arts are probably at the top levels of excellence in the state.” An example she shares, “I recently went to a conference on creating healthy communities and people from all over the country and the state of Florida were there. They saw what we have here in Alachua County. An orchestra, Dance Alive, Profahl Dance Studios, Santa Fe Fine Arts,” she continues, “and they said they had nothing anywhere like it.” What’s next? ACAC is planning an annual conference to take place at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. Speakers and artists are expected from around the state. The organization also plans on creating a sculpture walk soon, encouraging people to take more time for the arts.

Gainesville Fine Arts Association Gallery

An organization for nearly 100 years, the Gainesville Fine Arts Association has existed since 1923 and recently opened their first gallery, the GFAA Gallery. With a curated gallery space, they’ve become more professional over the past year, according to Gallery Director Katie Lemie. The Gallery now has monthly themed exhibits that include about 30 local artists. A bi-monthly virtual exhibit has also been crafted for their website, archiving each exhibit.

“The GFAA does not have a vetting process,” says Lemie. “You don’t have to get your work approved to be part of a show. We’re a community gallery space so we want lots of artists of all walks of life and all skill levels.”

“As far as the art scene in Gainesville,” continues Lemie, “we’re really lucky to have the university. We’ve started collaborating with UF, offering an exhibition space for graduating art students.” Lemie also plans on increasing the GFAA Gallery presence in the community with concerts and other events and is also doing so in conjunction with Artwalk Gainesville. The artistic community can look forward to a diversity scholarship coming soon, along with a student membership drive.

See Also

Artwork Gainesville

All of the arts collide with a self-guided tour of local artwork on every last Friday of the month (except December) in downtown Gainesville. There’s arts and crafts, fine art, gallery openings, performance artists, good food and plenty of laid-back fun for all during Artwalk Gainesville from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Hundreds of people come together, including 70 to 100 diverse artists, for camaraderie, creativity and cutting edge artwork.

“It’s a laid-back vibe,” says Frank Curtis, Artwalk Gainesville Director, and one of the originators of Artwalk Gainesville.

Starting in the 1980s, Curtis tells us a handful of artists wanted to sell their artwork. Those founders include two Gainesville mainstays who still participate, TheSL8 gallery owner Gerard Benson and well-known painter Eleanor Blair. About 14 local galleries, dozens of businesses, including Black C Gallery, First Magnitude Brewery and Flaco’s Cuban Bakery and more participate each Artwalk. There’s churches, gyms, restaurants, shops and bars involved too. Plus, it’s open to all artists who want to participate. It’s a true community celebration of the arts.

The Building Blocks

Building upon the solid foundation of the University of Florida, the Harn Museum of Art, the University of Florida’s Curtis M. Phillips Performing Arts Center, and the Florida Museum of Natural History and Butterfly Rainforest mimic the tradition of excellence. The essential tenets of fine art are defined within these buildings at the UF Cultural Plaza.

Harn Museum of Art

Eleven galleries exhibit 10% of the 11,500-piece permanent (rotating) collection, precisely curated in the 40,400-square-foot Harn Museum of Art. Amongst the fine art you will find a familiar master, Claude Monet. Monet’s Champ d’avoine has a place of honor in the Harn Museum. Works of Kehinde Wiley are also highlighted. Wiley is the painter responsible for President Barrack Obama’s portrait in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery. Temporary exhibits rotate throughout the year at the Harn, as well. Twelve hundred works of art were given to the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida by Samuel H. and Roberta T. Vickers in early 2021. The oil paintings, watercolors, drawings and prints—the largest single art collection ever donated to the University of Florida–depict Florida’s environment, people and history.

The Harn will begin construction this year on a 23,000-square-foot addition, which will house the Vickers gift, add more exhibition space for all works in the Harn’s collection, provide an art conservation and study area. Anticipated completion date is January 2024. There’s more. The 18,000-square-foot Mary Ann Harn Cofrin Pavilion opened in 2005, adding 6,500-square-feet of exhibition space, two classrooms and the Camellia Court Café. In 2012, the David A. Cofrin Asian Art Wing opened and added another 26,000-square-feet, tripling the amount of Asian art that could be displayed. The space includes a conservation lab, art storage, and curatorial research area. The wing also features two Asian-inspired gardens. “What’s unique about the Harn,” says Tami Wroath, Marketing Director, “Is the fact that we serve both a university and community audience and it is a great place for those two audiences to come together and enjoy art in the same space, whether it’s through viewing our exhibitions or participating in interactive programs like our Museum Nights events. Museum Nights (held the second Thursday every month from 6 to 9 p.m.) offer unique ways to learn about the art on view through art activities, tours, community and university group information booths and special performances. With this caliber of fine art at your fingertips, it’s hard to believe that membership is free to all. All you have to do is apply.

The Curtis M. Phillips Center of the Performing Arts

Brian Jose, Director of UF Performing Arts, which includes the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts venue, says, “I tell anyone who will listen, this area punches way above its weight culturally. Ten to 20 times the MSA.” Opening in 1992, Jose says, “The beauty of it (the Phillips Center) is having that large umbrella of offerings – rock, folk, indie rock, classical, the Alachua County Youth Orchestra, jazz, theater, plays, dance (modern or ballet) – at every level, for everyone.”

“There’s so much for children,” Jose says. “You think about, for example, if you’re four or five years old and take dance lessons at any studio locally, they’ll get to perform on the Phillips Center stage at some point.”

He continues, “They’re having an experience on a professional stage at a very young age. That’s one of the great benefits.” In addition, says Jose, “University students get the exposure to performances from around the world,” and that’s what the Phillips Center provides. World class comedians, musicians, theatrical performance and so much more. Jose says he’s excited about a new performance initiative they’ve added.

“I’m really thrilled about UpStage,” he says, “We can’t keep tickets for this event.”

Literally on the main stage, the Phillips Center becomes a jazz club atmosphere complete with tables, chairs and a cash bar. There are two UpStage sets at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on select nights, one with heavy hors-d’oeuvres and the later with light desserts to make it more fun.

The Florida Museum of Natural History and Butterfly Rainforest

With surprises around every corner, the Florida Museum of Natural History and Butterfly Rainforest are also part of the UF Cultural Plaza. Caves and morphing caterpillars, caverns and coastal views, those are a few of the exhibits that tickle your intellect at these premier North Florida attractions. Not a roller coaster around, but plenty to excite you. This unique learning environment has been evolving since 1891. From the colorful lobby to the solar-powered rooftop, there’s something eye catching everywhere. Rarely do you find fine artistically sculpted displays, nationally recognized art glass etchings and oil painted walls within a natural history museum. Built for research, preservation and interpretation of both biological diversity and cultural heritage, the FLMNH’s main attractions are the permanent exhibits that explore Florida’s unique habitats and cultural history, and the exciting temporary exhibits. Open 363 days a year, a creative children’s area – the Discovery Room – has space for kids camps and birthday parties.

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