Gainesville Native Wins Best of Show at Downtown Festival

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Virginia resident Cindy Grisdela, a GHS grad, made the most out of her annual visit to her hometown by winning the top prize at the 34th Downtown Festival & Art Show.

Cindy Grisdela poses with her Best In Show ribbon and her paintings titled "Promenade," top, "Skyscrapers," left, and "Waters Edge."

Cindy Grisdela poses with her Best of Show ribbon and her fiber creations titled “Promenade” (top), “Skyscrapers” (bottom left) and “Water’s Edge.”

Cindy Grisdela has returned to her hometown of Gainesville each November for the past four years to participate in the Downtown Festival & Art Show. In her second and third years at the show, she was honored to win Awards of Excellence for her contemporary art quilts.

This year, however, she hit the jackpot.

On Sunday, Grisdela won Best of Show at the 34th Downtown Festival and Art Show, wowing judges with her colorful and intricate decorative-fiber creations.

“I am speechless!” Grisdela said shortly after learning of her top prize, which included a large rainbow-colored ribbon and–even better–a $2,000 check. “It’s the biggest thrill to win a big award like this in my hometown. Also, it’s tremendous because fiber artists don’t often win the top awards at these shows.”

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A Public Art Show — Every Day of the Year

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The Downtown Festival & Art Show is an amazing celebration of the arts. Unfortunately, the festival lasts only two days. If only art could be displayed along Gainesville’s red-brick streets 365 days a year. …

Oh, wait. It is!

Local painter Milan Hooper, left, and Nava Ottenberg in front of "The Painter" by Hooper. Photo courtesy of Nava Ottenberg)

Local painter Milan Hooper, left, and Nava Ottenberg in front of “The Painter” by Hooper. (Photo courtesy of Nava Ottenberg)

In case you haven’t noticed—and, apparently many haven’t yet—there are more than 20 pieces of public art lining streets and walkways around the Hippodrome State Theatre and Union Street Station. All you have to do is look—and admire.

The sculptures are part of the Downtown Gainesville Public Art Initiative, started by Nava Ottenberg with assistance from Jasper North and Mary Rockwood Lane. The first sculptures installed three years ago were “Stag” and “Rooster” by famed Peruvian artist Victor Delfin.

Those metal sculptures, loaned by Euphrosyne Parker in memory of her late husband (noted architect Alfred Browning Parker), are located on Southeast 2nd Place in front of Persona Vintage Clothing and Starbucks, respectively.

Soon to follow were two sculptures by the late David Bell, “Star Burst” and “Love Palm,” and Ted Crom’s “Luna,” a towering man-in-the moon sculpture that watches over the corner of Southeast 2nd Avenue and 1st Street.

Additional sculptures from local and international artists have popped up on a regular basis on downtown sidewalks and walls and in the courtyard of the Sun Center. They include five pieces by metal artist Jasper North and two others by the late, great Lennie Kesl.

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Gainesville Roots Run Deep for Folk Artist

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Alyne Harris feels right at home during the Downtown Festival & Arts Show. After all, the 73-year-old painter lives only a few blocks from this weekend’s event, where 100,000 people will be able to view her work.

Alyne Harris displays a painting of sunflowers and bumblebees underneath a rainbow.

Alyne Harris displays a painting of sunflowers and bumblebees underneath a rainbow.

Folk artist Alyne Harris doesn’t have far to go to draw inspiration for her paintings. It’s a simple matter of sitting on the front porch of her home in the Porters community of downtown Gainesville and gazing skyward.

 “I look at the heavens and I meditate,” she said. “I think ’bout what God’s made. I get myself quiet and I think. Ideas start coming to me.”

Those ideas might include the wonders of nature, such as flowers, birds and bumblebees, or memories of her early childhood or perhaps growing up in the segregated South before Civil Rights.

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The Art Show Must Go On, Without Piper in Charge

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Linda Piper has seen the Downtown Festival & Art Show grow by leaps and bounds in her 22 years as events coordinator. This year’s 34th annual festival will be her last before retirement.

Linda Piper displays two Festival posters by Harriet Huss, one from this year and one from 1995.

Linda Piper displays two Downtown Festival & Art Show posters by Harriet Huss, one from this year and one from 1995.

In her spacious second-floor office at the Historic Thomas Center, Linda Piper is surrounded by proud mementos of her two babies. We’re not referring to Piper’s natural children, although photos of her beloved daughters, Nicole and Rachel, adorn her desk.

No, in this case, Piper’s “babies” are the two Gainesville events—the Downtown Festival & Art Show and the Hoggetown Medieval Faire— she has nurtured for more than two decades as events coordinator for the City of Gainesville’s Cultural Affairs Division.

Those two events alone annually draw upward of 150,000 people to Gainesville and have helped put the city on the map as a cultural destination.

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MASS 5 Art Show Tapping Into New Venue

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After several years at the Wooly, the MASS Visual Arts show is setting up shop for the next week inside the First Magnitude Brewing Co.

When Bill Bryson sought a new home for his MASS Visual Arts show, he wanted an exhibit space large enough to display oversized sculptures but also a venue with a good vibe. The First Magnitude Brewing Co., with its industrial-size warehouse and bustling tasting room, was the ideal choice.

Tonight, the MASS 5 exhibit, featuring the work of some 48 artists, opens to the public at the brewery at 1220 S. Veitch St. A reception takes place from 7-10 p.m. The exhibit continues through Nov. 14.

First Magnitude Brewing Co. provides a spacious home to all shapes and sizes of artwork.

First Magnitude Brewing Co. provides a spacious home to all shapes and sizes of artwork.

“This space is really attractive for this kind of show,” Bryson said, adding that brewery co-owners John and Christine Denny are old friends.

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Fest 14: Downtown Embraces 10,000 Diehard Punk-Rock Fans

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The punk-rock extravaganza takes place for the 14th time in Gainesville, drawing music lovers from around the United States and the world to the downtown area. The biggest winners are restaurants and bars — and the hundreds of bands and their fans.

fest artThis is the one weekend Danny Hughes looks forward to every year and, strangely enough, it has absolutely nothing to do with the Florida-Georgia football game in Jacksonville.

It has everything to do with his punk friends.

“I have friends from all over the world who come to town once a year, on the last weekend of October, and I love hanging out with them,” said Hughes, owner of Loosey’s restaurant and bar at 120 SW 1st Ave.

Those friends come to Gainesville not just to visit with Hughes but primarily to enjoy Fest, a three-day underground music festival that celebrates the punk-rock scene. Organizers of the event have lined up more than 350 bands to perform 30-minute sets at 20 venues within walking distance of downtown. Fest will draw upwards of 10,000 hardcore music fans to town.

For Gainesville, it’s a big deal. For most downtown business owners (to quote a certain follically challenged presidential candidate), it’s HUGE!

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All Booked Up Until Spring

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The Friends of the Library 2015 Fall Book Sale began last Saturday with swarms of people poring over more than 500,000 books and other media at the FOL Bookhouse on North Main Street. On Wednesday, the five-day sale concluded with a steady stream of customers scooping up the remaining items for a mere 10 cents apiece.

Bob Finley of Gainesville, retired from the Navy and the U.S. Postal Service, wheels his $3.10 worth of books out of the FOL Book Sale on 10-cent day.

Bob Finley wheels his $3.10 in items out of the FOL Book Sale on 10-cent day.

“Just three dollars and 10 cents for all of this happiness and good times!” Bob Finley said, pointing to the 31 items in his cart after departing the checkout area of the FOL Fall Book Sale.

Finley served as a Navy radar man on the USS Forrestal a half-century ago and retired after some 37 years with the U.S. Postal Service. He also is the author of four “interactive” children’s books in which the reader gets to name the main character in each book.

“They’re about making dreams come true and life lessons,” he said. (Finley’s website is

On Wednesday, Finley’s pushcart was loaded down with books on a variety of subjects as well as record albums from the ’60s and the Swing Era.

“I’ve got an eclectic taste in music,” he said. “For reading, I like science fiction more than anything else.”

Almost everyone who shopped at the FOL Fall Book Sale on Wednesday was looking for last-minute bargains. Jon Strout and Heather Foss of Gainesville spent three days at the sale and couldn’t get enough of it.

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Sister Act Leads Dance Alive Into 50th Season

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Judy Skinner and Kim Tuttle have overseen the growth of Dance Alive from a regional troupe started by their mother to a renowned national ballet company. They leap into their 50th season in Gainesville with “A Haunted Swan Lake.”

Judy Skinner and Kim Tuttle are the backbone of Dance Alive National Ballet.

Judy Skinner and Kim Tuttle are the backbone of Dance Alive National Ballet. (Photograph by Lena Crane, Reflections of Light Photography)

When the curtain rises Friday night on A Haunted Swan Lake to begin the 50th season of Dance Alive National Ballet, the unheralded stars of the show will be off in the wings of the Phillips Center stage, out of the spotlight.

That’s the way Kim Tuttle and Judy Skinner have always preferred it.

For the past four decades, the sisters have collaborated behind the scenes to bring Gainesville a world-class dance company. There’s no doubt their mother would be proud.

When Mary Ellen Pofahl started the Gainesville Civic Ballet in 1966, oldest daughter Judy was in college and youngest daughter Kim was still in high school. Although following in their mother’s dance steps was inevitable, no one could have imagined just how far the Pofahl sisters would take things.

A half-century later, Skinner and Tuttle have transformed their mother’s local dance company into a professional touring company with world-class dancers from Russia, Brazil, Cuba, Italy, Turkey and Ukraine. Continue reading

Persona Vintage Clothing Always in Halloween Spirit

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Owner Nava Ottenberg has a wide selection of authentic costumes for rent or purchase at her downtown store — and a whole lot more.

Nava Ottenberg holds a glittery Roaring 20s gown between displays of disco-era outfits, left, and a pirate's costume.

Nava Ottenberg holds up a green-beaded belly dancer’s outfit between displays of disco-era dresses, left, and pirate costumes.

When new customers begin browsing the many racks of costumes at Persona Vintage Clothing, they soon realize this isn’t a run-of-the-mill Halloween store with plastic masks and cheap, disposable outfits.

“I have people come in everyday and go, ‘Oh my God, you have great stuff!'” said Nava Ottenberg, who owns the eclectic store on the southeast corner of Union Street Station in downtown Gainesville.

In fact, many of Ottenberg’s authentic costumes come with stories. Some appeared onstage in Broadway plays. Others were used in Warner Bros. films from a bygone era. Still others have more personal stories. Continue reading

Hippodrome Stages Monster of a Show

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Candace Clift as Victor has a monstrous task ahead of him/her during All Girl Frankenstein. (Photograph by Michael A. Eaddy)

In All Girl Frankenstein, Candace Clift plays misguided Victor in a dramatic retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic tale.

Candace Cliftin front of the Hippodrome before a recent rehearsal.

Candace Clift relaxes in front of the Hippodrome State Theatre before a recent rehearsal for All Girl Frankenstein.

In the first act of All Girl Frankenstein —playing through Nov. 7 at the Hippodrome State Theatre—the audience is pulled into the turbulent world of Victor Frankenstein. The young man copes with his mother’s death, goes off to university and creates a grotesque monster, then confronts the untimely death of another beloved family member.

The consequences of all that drama leave poor Victor with unbearable anguish that only intensifies during the second act. It’s a grueling role only the toughest stage actor could pull off.

Thankfully, Candace Clift is up to the task.

For two heart-wrenching hours, Clift breathes life into a confused character that definitely could use a hug or two.

“It’s a juicy, juicy role,” Clift told “I’ve always loved old, scary Halloween movies, and Frankenstein is so iconic—the hubris of this man who attempts to play God.”

Frankenstein was the creation of Mary Shelley, who published her first novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, in 1818, when she was just 21 years old. Shelley’s own tragedy-filled life provided fodder for her ill-fated protagonist.

“You will never meet a character in literature so full of denial as Victor,” Clift said. “He’s very conflicted.”

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