Three lives, one passion for the arts

Published: Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 at 2:21 p.m.

Three outstanding members of Gainesville's arts community received lifetime achievement awards from the Gainesville and Alachua County Cultural Affairs Board on Thursday.



The awards are part of the effort by the Cultural Affairs Board to recognize arts professionals in the community, and the three recipients, N'Kwanda Jah, Eleanor Blair and Michael Blachly, have enriched the cultural life of Gainesville in profound ways, namely through public avenues such as the Cultural Arts Coalition and the University of Florida.

If there's a performing arts show at UF, Michael Blachly is the man who brought it to the stage. As director of the University of Florida Performing Arts for the last decade, Blachly has brought numerous professional and semi-professional acts from around the globe to the Phillips Center, University Auditorium and other UF facilities.

The board awarded Blachly the Business Arts Award for his devotion to booking and promoting shows in Gainesville and giving a small community the cultural feeling of a big city.

Some acts coming to UF this season include the Broadway musical “Hairspray,” guitarist and vocalist Richie Havens and comedian Lewis Black.

Local artist Blair came from the big city many years ago to start her career as an artist in Gainesville. After studying art at The Cooper Union in the heart of downtown Manhattan, she left to find a place where she could live cheaply but still have an outlet for art. Blair called Aspen, Colo., and Sarasota home before settling in Gainesville in 1971 with a shopping bag full of clothes, $40 and a lamp.

“One of the things that first attracted me to Gainesville and kept me here [is] this community really appreciates artists,” Blair said. “There is some conventional wisdom that there's not enough money to be made in a small town, but what Gainesville offers artists more than anything else is an amazing audience.”

Blair displays her landscape, architectural and still-life paintings, most of which are Florida-themed, at her studio on 113 S. Main St. It's there that she hosts art shows and parties with other artists and art lovers in the community.

“The fact that the CAB chooses to highlight accomplishments, it's a part of that larger picture of appreciation for the arts, and it makes Gainesville a cool town to live in,” Blair said.

Jah, another lifetime award recipient, is the director of the Cultural Arts Coalition, a group dedicated to improving the community through art. The CAC's focus is to educate children of the social ills of the community and redirect at-risk youth toward greater personal growth and community involvement.

Jah helped start the 5th Avenue Arts Festival, an annual festival dedicated to showing the community the rich historical and cultural heritage of the Northwest Fifth Avenue and Pleasant Street neighborhoods.

Blachly, Blair and Jah also will be recognized by the Alachua County Commission on Tuesday.

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