SPARC352 partners gather at a Partnership for Reimagining Gainesville event. The grant activities will be the first programming for SPARC352, which takes an arts-integrated approach to neighborhood development. (Photo courtesy of UF College of the Arts)

University of Florida receives $750,000 grant to collaborate with historically Black neighborhoods

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The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the University of Florida a $750,000 grant to conduct research in Gainesville’s historically Black neighborhoods.

Unlike many traditional research projects, the researchers for this three-year effort will be the neighborhood residents themselves.

The team will pay residents to talk with their neighbors and create “countermaps,” stories and photos that reflect both the community’s needs and its assets.

The grant’s lead investigator, Dionne Champion, hopes the project will provide a new model for how the university can engage with the community.

“The typical way that research gets done,” Champion said, “is that researchers have an idea for a thing that they want to learn more about, they go into these communities, they use all the resources and they take what they can, you know, to get what they need from the people, and then they disappear.

“So we’re trying to disrupt that narrative in a very intentional way, to become a resource for the people in these communities and, you know, to give back in a way that matters to them.”

The “artist-researchers” will present their work at four “Critical Community Conversations” in 2022, which aim to bring together members of the community and UF faculty and graduate students.

These conversations will inspire a series of art projects in 2023, which will be installed in a Gainesville community cultural space in the project’s final year.

This summer, the team will also host a paid apprenticeship program for 20 residents ages 18 to 25 to work with professional artists.

Though the university is the recipient of the grant, the project was envisioned by SPARC352, a collaboration between the University of Florida and community members to take an arts-integrated approach to neighborhood development.

About Katie Hyson

Katie Hyson is a Report for America Corps Member at WUFT News covering racial and rural inequities in East Gainesville and north central Florida. She can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org. Click here to learn how you can support her reporting.

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