Two local artists started with a mirrored wall, light wooden floors, glass block windows and a belief in the power of a positive feng shui.
When Charley McWhorter, 51, and Celino Dimitroff, 56, purchased a building at 601 S. Main St., Gainesville, Florida, they used feng shui, the ancient Chinese philosophy, to arrange their new art supply store in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and channels positive energy.
“This building is an architectural dream,” McWhorter said. “We really like the idea of people coming and just floating through here. It’s set up like a garden.”
Various art supplies line the repurposed wooden shelves at the SoMa Art Media Hub, which officially opened on Monday with McWhorter and Dimitroff at the helm. They hope SoMa will become a meeting place where local artists and students come to purchase supplies and collaborate on art projects.
“We wanted to deviate from the whole traditional idea of retail sales floors,”McWhorter said. “We particularly wanted people to be able to come in here and feel welcomed—that they have walked into a storehouse that’s theirs.”
The Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center, another forum for artistic collaboration, announced on Jan. 19 that it will be moving to the former Backstage Lounge at 1315 S. Main St., down the road from SoMa.
The center is called The Doris after its founder Doris Bardon, a member of the Arts Association of Alachua County. Bardon passed away in October 2006 at 86, leaving her estate to establish a cultural center for artists and community members.
Norma Homan, treasurer of the AAAC and friend of the late Bardon, said they had been renting a space for the center at 716 N. Main St., but she is glad to now have a permanent home for the center.
Homan said she expects the new location of The Doris to open this fall when it will become the new headquarters of Artwalk Gainesville, start to host art workshops, offer open studio times and serve as an event space.
Nathalie McCrate, project manager for the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency, said she believes many of the recent private investments in the area are due to the CRA’s newly approved Depot Park project at the intersection of South Main Street and Southeast Depot Avenue.
“I think they’re picking up on the buzz and excitement around there and just want to be a part of it,” she said.
Depot Park is referred to as the future “Central Park of Gainesville.” The park is scheduled to open in 2016 and will feature walking paths, a children’s playground, a waterside promenade and the Cade Museum.
Alachua County Commission spokesman Mark Sexton has worked in downtown Gainesville since the late 1980s. He has witnessed the “renaissance” of the area.
Sexton said Depot Park will spark more business and will also make South Main Street feel safer by bringing more traffic and a “community feel” to the area.
SoMa co-owner Dimitroff said he has also noticed the upcoming Depot Park is drawing attention to South Main Street.
“For the longest time, people weren’t even coming down to the Citizens Co-op because it was just too scary down there,” Dimitroff said. “Now we’ve had old ladies come in here, and they would’ve never stopped in here five years ago.”
Tom Hart, executive director of Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW), said SoMa fills a void that was left when another art supply shop, Central Florida Office Plus, closed in 2014. He said students from SAW, a comics and graphic novels school, are excited to be able to walk one block to SoMa for supplies rather than having to buy them online.
In addition to local artists, SoMa’s co-owners hope to get business from local college students.
Sante Fe College graphic design sophomore Mikell Ogle said he is glad to have SoMa in town because “Michaels is a crafts store that caters to soccer moms and 50-year-olds.”
Dimitroff and McWhorter place importance on local companies like SoMa and The Doris working together to maintain the local arts presence so the “multi-armed hydra of industry” doesn’t take over.
“He and I struggled through the first half of our lives trying to make money, working for ‘the man,’” McWhorter said. “Now we want to be ‘the man’ for a change.”