Staying strong in the community
Published: Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at 1:01 p.m.
The 35th Annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival will feature the largest “Cha-Cha Slide” ever danced in Gainesville — and the first bus tour to educate residents about the rich black history in Gainesville and Alachua County.
35th Annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival
What: Annual festival features art, vendors, entertainment and more
When: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Northwest Sixth Street between Third and Seventh avenues.
The festival will run from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday along Northwest Sixth Street between Third and Seventh avenues. A reception is planned from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at the A. Quinn Jones Center at 1108 NW Seventh Ave.
On Saturday, the festival begins with a bus tour from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. that will be led by Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, a lecturer in the African Studies Department at the University of Florida. It is being billed as “Never Forgotten: African American Roots in Alachua County.”
The featured performer in this year’s festival is Willie Perry of Chicago, better known as “Mr. C. The Slide Man,” who will perform at 6 p.m. Saturday. Perry became famous outside of the Chicago area with his 1998 recording of the dance hit, “Cha-Cha Slide.”
“We hope to have the largest group of Cha-Cha sliders ever in Gainesville,” said Nkwanda Jah, executive director of the Cultural Arts Coalition and the longtime organizer of the festival.
Jah said this year’s festival also features its first-ever juried art show contest in an effort to entice more artists. The show’s judge is Mallory O’Connor, a local professional art curator, who will decide the winners of the $1,000 first-place prize and the two $500 runner-up prizes.
The theme of this year’s festival is: “We Are One: Africa, Asia, Americas, Europe.”
“We are still trying to promote unity,” said Jah, adding that the festival was founded by herself and others who wanted to honor and show respect for the rich black history of Gainesville, while at the same time offering agencies and organizations a chance to make residents aware of the services and resources they provide.
Jah said this year’s theme was selected by the coalition’s board of directors, and the flier promoting the festival was designed by herself and Sean Plemons with the city of Gainesville Cultural Affairs Marketing Department. The flier features a baobab tree, a type of fruit tree Jah said is found in Africa and dates back thousands of years. It grows where few other things grow and flourish and is a symbol of life and positivity, she said.
“I think that many of our communities still produce extraordinary individuals during a time when it is hard to thrive because of a lack of opportunities, whether it be education, employment or housing,” Jah said.
She also said Roger “Roger D” Davis, a coalition board member, will serve as the emcee this year.
Jah said she will be happy to have 80 vendors on hand at the festival, but the festival continues to need the support of the community.
“We have a lot of fraternity and sorority members in the community, and others who can come out and support the artists and vendors,” said Jah, adding that artists and vendors rely on making money at festivals, not only to cover their costs so they won’t lose any money, but also to make a living.
“Working at festivals is how some artists and vendors survive,” Jah said.
Jah said although the economic downturn has affected the festival the past several years, she said it is still going strong. She said festivals in Tallahassee, West Palm Beach and other cities have faded away during the past 35 years, but the 5th Avenue Arts Festival is still alive.
“We are still here,” Jah said.
The inaugural “Never Forgotten: African American Roots in Alachua County” bus tour runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and will be led by Hilliard-Nunn of UF.
The cost of the tour is $20; for reservations calling Jah at 372-0216.
Hilliard-Nunn said the tour will travel through Micanopy, the Arredondo community, the Bailey House on Northwest Sixth Street and other sites.
“I will discuss free blacks, enslaved Africans, African Seminole Indians and others who are part of the rich history of Alachua County,” she said. “Specifically, riders will leave with a greater understanding of the African-American origins of Alachua County.”
Hilliard-Nunn said a light lunch will be served on the tour.