Ocala-based artist Jordan Shapot created this piece of art called "Unity." Shapot has multiple pieces of work at NOMA Gallery, 939 N Magnolia Ave. in Ocala. (Allen Barney/WUFT News)

First Fridays Are Back In Ocala – You Can Peruse Art And Hear Live Music

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Art is a form of expression that can be appreciated for the emotions conjured from its audience’s minds. The art scene in Ocala, Florida, has layers of inspiration and countless amounts of talented artists looking to hone their craft and spread their idea of creativity.

The city hosts art-centered events throughout the year. On Sept. 3, the First Friday Art Walk resumed in the town’s historic district. The next event will take place this Friday, Oct. 1. The event showcases local artists who display and sell their work to attendees with live music and family art activities provided by art organizations.

The Appleton Museum of Art, located at 4333 East Silver Springs Blvd., features local artists and students from the College of Central Florida. The museum is run by the college and has around 18,000 objects and exhibitions on display.

The Brick City Center for the Arts, located at 23 SW Broadway St., is another hub for local artists to display their artwork. Brick City chooses a new exhibit from a local artist every month to create opportunities for them and local art organizations.

Jaye Baillie is the executive director of the Brick City Center, and she believes that the art community is growing. Baillie credits the help from local organizations’ funding and the community becoming more supportive of public art in the city.

“The Marion Cultural Alliance was created in 2001. Our main mission is to champion artists and provide opportunities for them and really to be the cheerleader for the community of arts,” Baillie said.

Baillie said their primary function is to raise money and distribute it to local art organizations such as the Reilly Center, Max and FAFO. The last award was $415,000 and grants for up to $5,000 for art organizations. The contributions have impacted 362,000 people, Baillie said.

According to a U.S. News and World Report Rankings, Ocala is one of the fastest-growing cities in America, with big-name companies creating jobs and the horse market being more robust than ever with the addition of the World Equestrian Center. With more people in town, the better chance there is to cultivate young artists into producing their work that the city can appreciate.

One of the notable artists in the Ocala art scene is EJ Nieves. After obtaining a graphic design degree from the University of Central Florida, Nieves found a hobby that made him happy and turned it into a career. He moved to Ocala a little over two years ago and has been building his reputation in the city.

Nieves has his art gallery called NEHS. galleries at 1523 NE 8th Ave. Currently, Nieves is renovating the gallery to host his exhibits for the world to see. In addition, the 37-year-old has a small mural at the Paddock Mall in Ocala.

Recently, Nieves had the opportunity to create two paintings used in the backdrop of the Florida Gators football team media day.

Nieves would like to see aspects of the Ocala art scene improved because he feels there is a lack of unity among the people in the group.

“Build bridges, not kingdoms,” is the mantra for Nieves’ art career. Nieves said many art entities are only fostering the artists they want to promote, and not bridging all the artists together as one big community.

“There needs to be conversations. There is favoritism, isolation and rejection and there needs to be intentional shows that bring us all together. More initiatives and events need to be tailored towards building that bridge between all entities,” Nieves said.

Justin Alsedek is a local artist who runs a gallery next door to EJ Nieves on 8th ave. in Ocala. Alsedek was once a traveling artist who used festivals as a source of profits. Now that Alsedek is moved into a gallery, he has hosted shows with other artists and plans on having his more shows later this year.

“Everyone in town and in the art community are close. Joining M.C.A. is one of the first things I did when I moved here and becoming a member has helped me to meet the community of artists here,” Alsedek said.

For eight years, Jordan Shapot has been a part of the Ocala art community and has pieces at the Brick City Center for the Arts and the NOMA gallery Ocala. According to Shapot, the artists in the area are a tight-knit group that spend time together and help each other when needed.

“For the past 10 years, Ocala has been really focused on raising the bar in the art and culture scene,” Shapot said.

Shapot spoke about how arts and culture are the pillars of any community, and they are needed to sustain healthy development for any city. He compared the local artists to frontiersmen because the town is on the cusp of becoming an exciting place to be for all generations.

Art can be used in various ways to engage the public to think about issues in society that affect everyone. Art does not always have to be meaningful, but it can spark conversations on what needs to be talked about or as a reminder to appreciate the little things, Shapot said.

“We’re trying to open the eyes of the viewers or give them a different perspective, or it can be used as an escape from day-to-day life,” Shapot said.

There are countless forms of art, and some styles have no explicit meaning, but they invite people to think critically or transport them to a moment in time.

A new player to the Ocala art scene is the NOMA Gallery, located at 939 Magnolia Ave., Shapot is one of the many artists who have work showcased at the gallery. Dave and Lisa Midgett created NOMA as a limited-time relief during the height of the covid pandemic in 2020. They allowed artists to show and sell their work without commissions.

The gallery was such a hit that the Midgett’s decided to make it a full-time art gallery with juried shows and public events. With NOMA being a private gallery, it allows the artists to share different art ideas without limitation.

A statement on the NOMA’s official website from the Midgett’s says, “Art provides us unique perspectives, inspires personal creativity, and allows us to experience universal emotions in new ways.”

Tito Comas has experience in the art world with his marketing and advertising company called Grafito, Inc. 

“Having a good art community can bring you great businesses because people see that there is a lot of culture in the area and that carries many advantages,” he said.

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