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Ishangi Dancers perform at festival, 1980s
Ishangi Dancers during a dynamic performance at the 5th Avenue Arts Festival, 1980s. Photo: Dale Williams

5th Avenue Arts Festival

The idea for the African-American Fifth Avenue Festival happened in 1979, when a group of college students, community activists, and artists opposed urban renewal efforts to tear down the homes and buildings along Fifth Avenue. To address this issue, they planned a poetry reading which evolved into the first Fifth Avenue Arts Festival, pulled together with $200 and a lot of community commitment. Musicians, entertainers and proprietors volunteered their talents and services. Advertising consisted of flyers, a large banner, and word of mouth. Subsequent Fifth Avenue Arts Festivals have promoted a regeneration of the Fifth Avenue neighborhood. All segments of the community participate, from community service and nonprofit organizations, to schools, churches, businesses, artists and elected officials.

African-Americans have lived in Alachua County and Gainsville since the 1830s when they were worked as slaves in the sugar cane plantation of Duncan Clinch. When Florida gained statehood in 1845, more than half the 70,000 population were African slaves. In the years after the Civil War, many freed slaves relocated in the Gainesville area in the Pleasant Street development, which became a thriving neighborhood.

Each year, both the city and county governments issue proclamations hailing the festival, produced by the Cultural Arts Coalition. Thousands of people come to the festival, bringing their buying power, and taking away a new perception of the neighborhood. The spring festival has several goals: to show that Fifth Avenue is a viable, living community that supports and appreciates the arts; to showcase African-American artistry and creativity; to provide information of all kinds-political, historical, health care, and community services. In 1999, the festival featured local artists, as well as artists from Florida, Georgia, and from Senegal. Vendors show and sell jewelry, wood carvings, clothing, paintings, and food. The festival provides live performances of music and dance. Music encompasses many styles from gospel, R&B, reggae, jazz, to rap.

Documentation includes a report, 30 photographs, newspaper and magazine articles, a calendar, book of poetry, four posters, exhibit pamphlets, tour guides, festival program guides, a video of the 1993 festival, and an audio cassette.

Originally submitted by: Karen L. Thurman, Representative (5th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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