Alligators in flying saucers might be the last thing people expect to see in a community annual report.
But it could be the first municipal annual report that their kids read.
The Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency worked with local cartoonists from the Sequential Artists Workshop to add creativity, in the form of 16 hand-drawn cartoons, to its 2014 annual report. This report provides a year-in-review of the agency’s work and was distributed in March.
Last week, the GCRA was awarded a 2015 Bronze Excellence in Economic Development from the International Economic Development Council, the world’s largest organization of economic developers. The award was in the annual report category for small cities, which is defined as having a population of 25,000-200,000.
According to Jeff Finkle, president and CEO of the IEDC, the GCRA’s report was “one of 48 submissions that were nominated for this award.”
The award is given to organizations for leading the way in economic development efforts.
“It’s really validating to be recognized at such a huge level,” said Nathalie McCrate, GCRA project manager. “It’s pretty amazing that it caught the eyes of the leaders at IEDC, and people saw it as a fun, unconventional way of connecting with the community.”
As a non-traditional government agency, the GCRA is always looking for different ways to reach a wider audience in the community, according to McCrate.
“Whenever you hear of an annual report, it doesn’t sound enticing or like something people would want to read,” McCrate said. “We enjoy turning people’s perceptions upside down.”
Most of the time municipal annual reports, which go to taxing authorities and advisory board members, collect dust in the back of filing cabinets, McCrate said. They wanted this one to be memorable and to get people excited about what’s happening in their backyards.
In previous years, the GCRA has done the state-mandated annual report as a picture book and also as a foldout that had each letter of the word “different” on a separate page.
When the interim GCRA director, Sarah Vidal-Finn, met artists from SAW, she told McCrate the GCRA had to work with them. They decided to combine the local artists and the required annual report.
“We have to give credit to the CRA for being kind of brave about it,” said Tom Hart, cartoonist and executive director of SAW. “They called us up and wanted to do something interesting for the annual report.”
According to Hart, the group of cartoonists spent more than three months developing the comic. During the creative process, they would “take a giant piece of paper and photocopy their ideas.”
Justine Andersen, illustrator and teacher at SAW, drew the majority of the illustrations and based them off of the style of classic comics, such as Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts. At first, she said she was worried about how much fun an annual report could be, but she got more excited when the GCRA liked the comic strip approach.
For content of the annual report, SAW received printouts of the year’s meetings and projects. The artists had to select what they thought were the highlights. The free rein SAW was given for the project allowed the artists involved to be more enthusiastic, according to Andersen.
One of the comics, “Lucky Dodgers in the 21st Century,” is a story based off of Buck Rogers that relates to the construction of the Cade Museum. Some of the other projects featured include the Bo Diddley plaza water wall and the Depot Park project.
When she looks at the report, she said she felt proud of how it turned out.
“I didn’t waste this year, and I got something really cool done,” Andersen said.
The GCRA received emails from government workers who were initially skeptical about the idea and changed their minds after reading the final report. McCrate said they thought it was awesome and read every word.
Because the annual report was distributed with the Sunday edition of the Gainesville Sun, it allowed the agency to connect to larger and more diverse audiences. According to the GCRA, about 31,000 copies of the annual reports were distributed, breaking its previous record.
Residents who have never engaged with the GCRA before have emailed the agency about the report and others have wanted to know how they could get involved, McCrate said
“Just connecting with new people and keeping everyone else that has known about [their projects] excited about what’s next is pretty rewarding and pretty fun,” McCrate said.