Loving art, bettering her community

Erin Friedberg chooses the city's art in public places. She'd like to know what you like

Erin Friedberg, visual arts coordinator for the City of Gainesville Department of Cultural Affairs, poses in the studio of local artist Arnold Mesches. Mesches' paintings, pictured at back, are selections for a future exhibition titled, `Echoes: A Century Survey.'

DOUG FINGER/Gainesville Magazine
Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 10:56 a.m.

Erin Friedberg has always wondered what entices people to museums.



PROFESSION: Visual Arts Coordinator, City of Gainesville

HOMETOWN: Flint, Michigan

FAMILY: Single, one orange tabby cat named Chester

EDUCATION: B.A. art history and art criticism, Florida State University, M.A. arts administration, Florida State University; currently pursuing a certificate in community college executive leadership, University of Florida

As the visual arts coordinator for the city of Gainesville, director of the Thomas Center Galleries and coordinator of the city's Art in Public Places Trust, she explores that question every day.

The question initially came to her after a series of experiences and degrees landed her in Gainesville almost two years ago after traveling to such diverse places as London, Venice and Mexico. Those experiences deepened her love for the visual arts and her appreciation for the role art can play in a community.

"Gainesville is such a vibrant, artistic community," she says. "I believe art can strengthen communities by bringing people together to share ideas and make a difference."

Friedberg, 29, moved to Florida at age 1 from Flint, Michigan, and thought she was destined for a life in the theater. An art history course at Florida State University, however, became the catalyst for a career in arts administration. "Art history contains so much about society and politics," Friedberg says. "It makes it interesting to learn history."

Her time at Florida State University, where she earned degrees in art history and arts administration, gave her a chance to experience how other countries incorporate art into their cultures. "When we go abroad, we see how art is ingrained; it's a part of everyday life," she says. The trips also expanded some of her personal artistic interests.

In Mexico, for instance, Friedberg studied jewelry making in San Miguel de Allende through a program at Florida Atlantic University. Her curiosity about designing and casting jewelry came from growing up in her family's jewelry business. Purchasing stones from nearby mining towns, she created silver bracelets, rings and pendants from original designs inspired by Mexican jewelry styles found in the area.

Her love of painting, a hobby that she says she has little time for these days, took her on internships to the Museum of Women's Art in London and Venice's Peggy Guggenheim Collection. "It was very inspiring."

But it was during her senior year as an undergrad that she realized she could combine her love of art with a desire to affect communities.

By coincidence, a professor of hers was curating an exhibit of contemporary Native American art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Tallahassee. Friedberg was a volunteer there and, at the time, the museum had no high school outreach program. She had been so taken with the Native American exhibit, she says, that she decided to develop such an outreach program as a research project. "I did it as a science experiment," she says.

She visited area high schools where she did presentations and left catalogs with teachers for further discussion. Soon after, the schools started scheduling field trips to the museum. "It was affecting me to make a difference," Friedberg says. "Arts administration seemed to be the right step."

That experience led Friedberg to create the FSU Cultural Awareness Track, a program that promotes visual and performing arts on the FSU campus. At the time, she says, FSU was one of the top three public universities for the arts. "I wanted to find out if students in the math department knew there was a museum on campus," she says.

As director of the Thomas Center Galleries, she has coordinated such shows as last year's "A Shared Legacy: Documentary Photography of the 1930s and Today" and "Media in the Middle Ages and the Middle Ages in the Media," which coincided with a colloquium held by UF's Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, something that Friedberg cites as an excellent example of community-university partnership. The galleries' current exhibit features 20 years of painting by UF art professor John O'Connor.

"The quality she's brought [to the city] fits into today's climate of cooperation," says Cultural Affairs Director Lemuel B. Moore III, adding that Friedberg's enthusiasm and skills have helped build a strong foundation for the city's cultural programs. "She is a person who is very, very resourceful and responsive," Moore adds, "which is critical when everything you do involves partnering with outside resources."

Friedberg's work administering Gainesville's one-percent Art in Public Places Trust furthers her interest in cultivating community interest in art. "Public art creates a sense of place and provides meaning in communities," Friedberg says. "People don't realize that it promotes civic pride, creates dialog and adds value to a community."

These are a few of my favorite things:


"it's a form of creative expression for me, and I'm interested in the process. I don't really worry about anything when I'm painting. That's why I like doing it."


She has been to Mexico, Spain, Venice and London. "My favorite part of Venice was walking down the street.walking down a street, there's so much you can absorb and observe."


Specifically Charlie Parker and U2. "Music is an expression of the soul. With jazz, I like the fact of improvisation; it's always some new idea that works out in the end."

Modern Art:

"I like the idea of modernism, challenging art and artist and breaking away from tradition, challenging how people see art."

Artist Marcel Duchamp:

"He certainly challenged the way people perceived of art and objects and always questioned what art was. He always took risks, and I admire that."

Non-western cultures:

Especially American Indian, Precolumbian. "Art [in those cultures] is seen as a function of everyday life."

Gainesville Parks:

Specifically Bivens Arm. "The vastness of the water is just beautiful. It's a very peaceful, lovely place."


"Moulin Rouge" is her favorite movie. "I love the vivid colors and costumes and that it's a modern opera. It's so bold, but there are such subtleties."

Horseback riding:

"I've always done it. I love the animals themselves. They're beautiful, smart and exciting creatures. It's a wonderful way to spend your time."

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top