Alachua County Artists Plan To Engage The Community Through Arts Grants

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Driving down Florida roads, you might see an “I Support the Arts” license plate.

The extra money from this specialty license plate provides a way for artists to create on a larger canvas. This year, Kenya (Robinson), Terri Bailey, and Wendy Free are three of the 10 local artists who were awarded art grants. Each of these three artists spoke with WUFT and said they plan to use the money in a different way, but the main theme is engaging with the community.

Gina Peebles, Alachua County’s assistant county manager and chief of staff, said those who purchase the “I Support the Arts” license plates pay an additional fee per year. The extra money is returned to an arts agency of the county’s choosing.

In Peebles’ realm, the Alachua County Arts Council, which serves as the county’s resource for agencies and local artists, suggested that the proceeds be used to support local artists through a variety of grant programs, she said. Carol Richardson chairs the Alachua County Arts Council and said recipients of the grants were scored on a rubric based on a proposal submission.

Kenya (Robinson), who chooses to style her surname with parentheses, thinks Alachua County could be a retreat for artists. (Photo courtesy of (Robinson))

Kenya (Robinson), 43, is an artist who received one of the $1,750 grants.

Recently, (Robinson) has been working on art that is related to gaming, motion capture and virtual reality, she said.

She plans to use the grant money to purchase hardware that can capture motion data and to partner with a number of other organizations, groups and people to understand the beauty of human movement, she said.

Last year, she worked on a project called “The Electric Slide + Other Sacred Geometries,” with the UF Center for Arts in Medicine and the City of Gainesville, in celebration of National Dance Day, she said. Attendees danced to classic line dances.

She said this project was “a great first pass” at capturing motion data and understanding how to do a lot of different things, including creating a virtual environment.

Listen to hear what (Robinson) plans to do with the grant she was awarded.

In the future, (Robinson) said she hopes that these grants will become so well-funded and popular that more people will apply for them.

“Gainesville and Alachua County, as a whole, could totally be a retreat for artists. Because there’s space. There’s nature,” she said. “There are major institutions here that have access to resources that can be difficult to access as an individual, whether it’s like, you know, a kiln or welding facilities, etc.”

Terri Bailey, 54, a poet and writer, also received a $1,750 grant. Bailey is the founder of The Bailey Learning and Arts Collective (BLAAC). One of the organization’s key components is “social justice through the arts,” she said.

Terri Bailey, 54, a poet and writer, also received a $1,750 grant. She is also the founder of The Bailey Learning and Arts Collective (BLAAC). (Courtesy of Bailey)

Bailey has been writing stories and poems for years, dating back to high school, and hopes to soon publish a collection of stories and poems about Gainesville as a novella.

With the grant money, she plans to purchase a new computer, a printer and a small copyright account for her work. She also wants to publish her work.

For a long time, support within the region for its artistic community was very limited, she said.

“There were not a lot of people of color being recognized and utilized,” Bailey said. “So, there’s been a surge in terms of that. There’s been an increase and we’re very happy about that.”

One of Bailey’s goals is to work with the city and the county to bring in some more “flavor,” she said.

Listen as Terry Bailey describes the need to bring more artists of color to Gainesville.

Wendy Free, 54, the owner of ecoglyph, received a $500 grant. She creates compositions from plants, photographs them and prints them on eco-friendly paper. Free also grows or forages the materials she uses to create her work.

Wendy Free describes her reaction to receiving the grant.

With the grant money, she is planning a free and collaborative event in November with in-person and online options.

Wendy Free, 54, is founder of ecoglyph and works here on a crepe myrtle flower composition. Nearly all of her photographic images are made in the midday sun to make the most of the plants’ natural colors and shadows. (Courtesy of Free)

“I’d like to have everybody get together and have a really good time and meet people and learn from each other and learn about what we can make with plant-based materials,” she said. But then, part of the commitment that I agreed to in my grant proposal was sharing what we’ve done.”

Free plans to have an online and in-person exhibit, featuring work from the event, in the room where the county commissioners meet.

“I think [Gainesville is] a little better off than maybe other communities in our region and our state with supporting the arts because we have the university,” she said.  “We just have a lot of people who live in our community who value that.”

Through the support of these local artists, officials hope to “plant seeds” throughout every corner of the county, Peebles said.

“So rather than just in the heart of the city of Gainesville, we’ll start having an appreciation for art in the unincorporated areas and the rural areas,” she said. “And, there’s really no expense to the taxpayer, because again, it’s funded through the art license plate sales.”

About Sarah Pickett

Sarah is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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