Not Just Gators Country
By Rayme Samuels
Discover the culture that permeates the college town of Gainesville.
Gainesville – this Central Florida university town is more than Gator Country. What many don’t realize is that a trip to this part of our state can be a culturally rich experience. From amazing museums to state-of-the-art theaters and plentiful festivals, this town offers an endless array of options for art and culture enthusiasts.
Theater fans have plenty of options to choose from in this city that boasts a strong history of supporting the performing arts. Two of the biggest theatrical points of interest in the city are the Hippodrome Theatre and Gainesville Community Playhouse.
The Hippodrome is North Florida's most celebrated producing arts organization. Located in the heart of Gainesville's historic downtown, the Hippodrome offers Mainstage professional theatre, art-house cinema, a visual art gallery, theater education classes for young people and full-service facility rentals.
The Hippodrome welcomes more than 200,000 people through its doors in the landmark, stunningly renovated Federal building, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Next time you're in Gainesville, make sure to add the Hippodrome to your list to catch a foot-tapping musical comedy, a thought-provoking documentary film in the cinema or simply "people-watching" from the front porch of the building as you look out over the streets of downtown Gainesville. The Hippodrome is celebrating its 40th Anniversary Season as a professional, nonprofit regional theater.
The Gainesville Community Playhouse, founded in 1927 as the Gainesville Little Theater, produces six shows a year and a Christmas holiday special for eager audiences. One of the oldest playhouses in Florida, this innovative theater aims to encourage all generations to enjoy the arts and even has a Facebook page. It is an all-volunteer organization, with people from all walks of life serving on the board of directors, performing and providing technical support for the theater. The drama Agnes of God opened May 16 in 2012. Audition dates are published on theater's website in addition to announcements on their Facebook page.
Museums and Galleries
Museum culture is an important part of life in this town. The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art and the Florida Museum of Natural History are both affiliated with the University of Florida and are two very popular draws.
Located on the University of Florida campus, the Florida Museum of Natural History is a major attraction for children and their families. Permanent exhibitions such as the living Butterfly Rainforest and others covering Floridas fossil history, natural habitats and early native people, as well as intriguing temporary exhibitions keep residents and visitors coming back for more. And every summer, the venue offers educational and exciting kids’ classes and summer camps. In 2012, be sure to catch the following:
- Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway (Through Sept. 3)
- Dugout Canoes: Paddling Through the Americas (Through November 2013)
- An Early Maya City by the Sea: Daily Life and Ritual at Cerros, Belize (Opening May 26)
- Peanuts... Naturally: Charlie Brown and Friends Explore Nature (Sept. 29, 2012 - Jan. 2, 2013)
- Titanoboa: Monster Snake (Opening Jan. 26, 2013)
“Not only are we the official state museum for natural history, we make an effort to present a lot of public programming and events for families throughout the year,” explained Paul Ramey, Florida Museum of Natural History spokesperson, of the facility’s impact in Gainesville.
Traditional and contemporary art lovers will without a doubt enjoy the 112,800-square-foot Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art on the University of Florida campus. Opened in 1990, the Harn Museum exhibits loaned art as well as rotating works of art from its permanent collection of more than 8,300 works of African, Asian, modern and contemporary Art, and photography. Visitors can enjoy multiple gardens, dine in the Camellia Court Café, shop in the store and enjoy programs within the classroom and auditorium spaces. The museum provides cultural enrichment for all ages through programs including gallery talks, family days and special events with performances and activities that connect with the art on view. In 2012-2012, you can enjoy numerous exhibitions here, including the recently opened Cofrin Asian Art Wing featuring ceramics, jades, sculptures, prints and masks from throughout Asia. Other exhibitions include:
- Deep Roots, Bold Visions: Self-Taught Artists of Alachua County (June 26 – Sept. 9, 2012)
- Anne Noggle: Reality and the Blind Eye of Truth (June 19, 2012 – March 10, 2013)
- Souvenirs of Modern Asia: The Prints of Paul Jacoulet (June 26, 2012 – Feb. 3, 2013)
- The Modern Impulse: European and American Photography Between the Wars (Oct. 9, 2012 – Jan. 6, 2013)
Every year, Gainesville plays host to a variety of festivals dedicated to food, culture and the arts. Two of the biggest are the Spring Arts Festival and Downtown Festival & Art Show.
Santa Fe College hosts the Spring Arts Festival, recently voted Best Arts & Crafts Festival by Florida Monthly, in March/April every year. The event welcomes up to 120,000 visitors every year. A 43-year-old annual tradition, it sets the stage for an amazing weekend of dance performances, concerts and, of course, the opportunity to purchase one-of-a-kind art pieces.
The 31st annual Downtown Festival & Arts Show, produced by the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, is ranked among the top art shows in the country. The 2012 festival will be held Oct. 13 and 14 in historic downtown Gainesville and will feature 250 artists, a free children’s hands-on art activity area and three stages of entertainment. This event is sure to have something for everyone, and for musical lovers, there’s an added bonus. A free concert will kick off the festival weekend Friday evening at 8 p.m., and the music will continue Saturday evening at 7 p.m. with a Downtown Blues Concert. For more information, visit gvlculturalaffairs.org.
And More ...
Murals adorn walls throughout the city in a vibrant splash of artistic inspiration. Along 13th Street and West University Avenue, one can enjoy 17 themed murals with inspirations ranging from football to wildlife. For those who prefer to enjoy art unexposed to the elements in a more intimate setting, the Thomas Center Galleries (located in a Mediterranean Revival-style former hotel amidst the Thomas Center Gardens) and Santa Fe Galleries (located on the Santa Fe Community College campus) offer a traditional gallery experience.
For more information on planning a trip to Gainesville, call 866-778-5002 or visit www.visitgainesville.com.