Thousands attend 5th Avenue Arts Festival at Santa Fe’s Blount Center in downtown Gainesville

Visitors wait in line for smoothies and other food during the annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival next to the new Santa Fe College Blount Hall building in Gainesville on Saturday. The festival is held to celebrate the Black community and its culture.

Visitors wait in line for smoothies and other food during the annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival next to the new Santa Fe College Blount Hall building in Gainesville on Saturday. The festival is held to celebrate the Black community and its culture.

It was a warm and breezy day as the 42nd annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival kicked off Saturday morning at Santa Fe’s Blount Center in downtown Gainesville.

Following a two-year hiatus, the in-person experience returns after last year’s festival was held online and cancelled in 2020. This year’s event features a wide range of vendors, community organizers, and live entertainment.

“We’re really happy to be back out there and very pleased at the response of the community about it coming back,” said Nkwanda Jah, the festival’s founder and one of this year’s organizers. “People are interested in coming back out and seeing each other and being together.”

“I came to see the people,” said Brianna Chesteen, founder and executive director of the Health Education and Training Center of Gainesville Inc. “For me this event is very cultural. This [festival] is bringing out the people to meet…and share information.”

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Situated throughout the celebration were a diverse group of vendors, offering everything from funnel cakes and smoothies, comic books and pamphlets, to artwork and novels.

Artist and novelist, Destiny Henderson, 24, is a recent Santa Fe graduate, and says that her passion for writing ignited her interest in painting.

“I always wanted to be a writer, but I got into art around [age] 12,” says Henderson. “I wanted to write books and you need an illustrator, and so my mom was telling me to get someone else to illustrate my books, but I said I want to do my own stuff.”

Toni Wiley, owner of Cake Lady’s Soul Food, prepares and presents plates of food for potential customers during the annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival next to the new Santa Fe College Blount Hall building in Gainesville on Saturday.

Toni Wiley, owner of Cake Lady’s Soul Food, prepares and presents plates of food for potential customers during the annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival next to the new Santa Fe College Blount Hall building in Gainesville on Saturday.

Drawings of Black superheroes adorned the booth of James Bethel and Terrance Baker, who are independent comic book creators with about 40 titles on the market.

“I’m proud of [the festival] because I grew up on 5th avenue, so it’s like coming home for me,” said Bethel. “I’m proud to represent my community because they started this whole thing and I’m glad to contribute something.”

Besides the artistry displayed at the event, several racial and social justice organizations were in attendance, sharing information on the available resources for residents in the area.

Members of the Gainesville Circus Center set up before their show during the annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival next to the new Santa Fe College Blount Hall building in Gainesville on Saturday.April 23, 2022.

Members of the Gainesville Circus Center set up before their show during the annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival next to the new Santa Fe College Blount Hall building in Gainesville on Saturday.April 23, 2022.

Jonathan Flynt, from the Alachua County Equal Opportunity Office, was there to let citizens know about their rights in the community.

“We assist individuals with discrimination and sexual harassment complaints,” he said. “We also are letting the community know about our additional fair housing protections that we’ve added to our fair housing ordinance.”

Although the 5th Avenue Arts Festival primarily represents Black artistic achievement in Gainesville, people of all colors were there to enjoy the experience.

“The festival is a tradition. I’m only one of the coordinators. The main coordinator for this [event] is Courtney Scott, who represents a new generation. I was the first generation and now there’s another generation, and hopefully they’ll be a generation after him that will keep this tradition going for another hundred years,” said Jah.

The festival ends Sunday from noon-5 p.m.

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: 5th Avenue Arts Festival in downtown Gainesville draws thousands

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