Tiffany Pineda appreciated being part of a cultural event that focused on black love and not some sort of recent social justice trauma. Queenchiku Ngozi yearned to be seen as an equal artist in her community. Kiara Laurent wanted a safe place to share their poetry.

“It’s really hard for me to find spaces where I can feel vulnerable sharing my work,” Laurent said.

They were among several artists featured at “A Poetic and Visual Celebration of Black Lives Matter Culture and Love,” a virtual event hosted recently by Terri Bailey, a local poet and artist. who held a similar event at the Thomas Center in 2019.

Black artists told the event that they regularly need to take it upon themselves to build their platform and grow their representation in Gainesville. They also wondered if the city was doing all it could or should to help them promote black artists and their work.

Bailey, 55, lived in Atlanta for 10 years while working at a women’s health center before returning to her hometown of Gainesville. She was surprised at how much her city had changed.

“When I got home, I was really shocked by the cultural degradation,” she said. “We just didn’t have access to the things we used to or on the same scale.”

Changes in city government have made it difficult to sustain progress for black artists, the artists said. While previous administrations may have had a stronger connection to the black community, Ngozi said she believed new officials were less receptive.

One of his frustrations is that the murals painted by artists who aren’t from Gainesville — or even Florida — include a lot of downtown artwork.

“They don’t spend money on a black artist,” Ngozi said. “They’re going to spend money to have an artist come and paint zebras on a wall that has nothing to do with the street, the avenue or the people in the neighborhood. What’s a zebra got to do with community? »

Bailey’s husband, Turbado Marabou, is also an artist and founder of Deeproots Arts & Culture Creative Services in Gainesville. He noted that black artists face an undervaluation of their services when finding work in Gainesville, particularly in commissioning murals.

Marabou, 58, said he had once been paid $200 to work on a mural without receiving a painting allowance. He warned the city not to consider local talent, especially in the case of international artists chosen for mural projects.

“They were paid very well for some of the work you see downtown,” Marabou said. “However, local artists haven’t had a fair chance. When they put out a call for artists, they didn’t give local artists the opportunity to showcase their creations.

In 2020, the city hosted a social justice-themed mural event with 12 artists selected by its 325 walls program. He invested $9,000 in positioning Gainesville-based artists to produce murals that address the national calculus of social justice. Artists or teams of artists were paid $450 per assigned muralaccording to the city’s website.

“Selection of muralists is done through a request for proposals (RFP) process and then a scoring system,” wrote Carol Velasques Richardson, museum coordinator for the A. Quinn Jones Museum and Cultural Center, in an email to WUFT News. “We will continue to evaluate our guidelines to ensure the application process is fair and equitable.”

Others believe that a lack of respect or cultural understanding leads to the exclusion of artists.

For Pineda, 48, the creative process is deeply personal. She has lived in Gainesville since 1991 and says she has seen no real progress in including black artists. Pineda also lamented undue struggles giving him rates for poetry or African dance.

“They can be just disrespectful and dismissive when you tell them the price of something,” she said of the reaction of people looking to hire her.

“They don’t understand,” Pineda continued, “like, ‘Why is it so expensive? Why do you want so much? Why are you doing this? It’s just a mural. No it’s not. It’s not. It’s not just a poem, it’s actually a piece of a moment from my time that captures an emotion that I gain from sharing with you.

Black artists and poets agreed that there are too few civic events that actively engage and welcome their work, let alone share it with their community.

E. Stanley Richardson, Alachua County Poet Laureate and Richardson’s husband, said he founded the literary organization ARTSPEAKS CNG in 2012 to connect local poets. Richardson said it was vital to center black people in building black platforms.

“I have the mindset of the black community before integration,” he said, “when we had no choice but to build what we wanted – because we didn’t we couldn’t cross the street, the tracks, we couldn’t go to certain places. Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Historically, Gainesville has been a hub of black art and music. The Cotton Club played a leading role during the mid-20th century as part of the Chitlin’ circuit, a venue group for African American musicians and performers. Bo Diddley, a native of the area, along with other icons James Brown, BB King and Ray Charles, were known to have performed there.

Laurent attends the race DOPENmican open-mic venue aimed at raising the voices of Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ artists.

“I just know that there are only a small number of spaces for black artists to show their work,” Laurent said. “And these are usually spaces that have been farmed by black people.”

Gainesville officials say they have taken steps to preserve buildings with significance in its black history. For example, the house of A. Quinn Jones, who served as the first president of Lincoln High School in 1923, was on the list of National Register of Historic Places in 2010and open to the public as A. Quinn Jones Museum and Cultural Center in 2017.

Carol Richardson said the center meets the programming needs of black artists.

“We host up to 20 programs and plan to offer more programs that will provide opportunities for black artists as presenters and create an experience for audiences,” she said.

Richardson said the city provides operating support through 30-year grant programs to organizations that serve black artists year-round. She cited the Cultural Arts Coalition, Star Center Theater, Actors Warehouse, Cotton Club Museum, UF Arts and Medicine, and Hippodrome Theater as examples of such venues.

Yet at the recent cultural event, black performers lamented being called out only during Black History Month, only to be met with radio silence from the city’s cultural leaders the rest of the year.

“Black artists shouldn’t be sought only in February,” Ngozi said. “Black artists have to live 12 months like everyone else. Every year. And it’s sad that the only time black artists matter is Black History Month or Kwanzaa.