Igniting a spark in
the center of it all
Take a look at an historic photograph of any American downtown,
be it little more than a village’s dusty crossroads or the heart of a
growing metropolis, and you’ll see the bustling signs of life in progress:
Apron-clad shopkeepers make change behind counters crammed with life’s necessities; farmers peddle the produce of their fields from the backs of carts; crowds in their Sunday best mingle in the town square for a concert, a speech, a picnic.
It was the act of people gathering together that gave vibrancy to these town centers of yore: to buy and sell, to worship, gossip, debate, commiserate, create, laugh.
And then came the post-World War II years: Highways and unlimited gas enticed us to the golden promise of grassy suburbs and mega malls. Little by little, businesses shuttered, and the downtowns began to empty; by the ’70s the lights were dim, if not completely out.
But lo and behold, the American downtown wasn’t dead, only desperately in need of revival.
In this issue of FORUM, our cover story highlights the vibrant reawakening of urban centers around our state, thanks to the power of creative, entrepreneurial and civic-minded Floridians with a passion for arts and culture.
American downtown wasn’t dead, only desperately in need of revival.
Travel with us to Miami, St. Petersburg, Deland, Gainesville, Pensacola, and Eau Gallie — from Wynwood Walls, to the Dali Museum, to the Florida Mural Trail — as we tell the story of how the determination and imagination of artists, visionary thinkers, city leaders, and business people have sparked a migration back to the city center, where a collective, creative spirit is thriving.
Speaking of the creative spirit, two-time National Book Award-nominated writer Lauren Groff kicks off our occasional series of essays about Florida, State of Inspiration. When this native of Cooperstown, New York, moved to Gainesville with her husband a dozen years ago, she was a reluctant Floridian, to say the least. Her essay chronicles how the words of fellow writers helped her learn to deeply appreciate the wonders of her adopted state.
Also in this issue, we introduce Florida By Design, in which we explore unique Florida architecture styles. We begin with a look the Sarasota School (also known as Sarasota Modern), which pays homage to the sea and sky and climate of our coasts with its walls of windows and soaring ceilings. And we step inside a recent example, which came to life through the shared vision of a noted architect and owners.
Here’s a story that’s bittersweet for me because it’s about a person I knew slightly, and a place, my hometown, that I know so well. Years ago, before South Beach, on the southern tip of Miami Beach, became synonymous with supermodels and super flashy clubs, it was the far less fashionable haven of Eastern European Jewish retirees, many of whom were Holocaust survivors. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, their singular world was chronicled by the young photographer and Beach native, Andy Sweet, whose affinity for his subjects was reflected in every frame, and his partner-in-photography, Gary Monroe.
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Tragically, Sweet was murdered at age 28, and for years much of his work was lost. But through the perseverance of his family, a new book, and a soon-to-be widely released documentary, his images of that now-vanished world live on.
There are so many more stories within these pages, and we hope you enjoy each one, but before I close, I’d like to mark a couple of transitions.
Jon Wilson, who has been so pivotal to FORUM and the Florida Humanities Council for the last dozen years, is retiring as communications consultant. You will still see his contributions in our Florida Book Awards issue, which he’s helped steer for years, but he’ll be spending more time traveling, enjoying grandparenthood, and myriad other interests. I will be forever grateful to Jon, who made me feel so welcome when I came onboard a year ago, for his writing and editing talents, his wit, and his unfailing kindness. And I am so pleased to welcome a new colleague, communications consultant Tom Scherberger. Like Jon, Tom is a veteran of decades at the St. Petersburg (now Tampa Bay) Times. Tom’s freelance experience is wide and varied, including writing for Visit Florida’s website (and FHC’s own Walking Tours) and the AARP Florida Bulletin. He also was communications director at USF St. Petersburg, where he got to know the Florida Humanities Council and some of our scholars. We are thrilled he’ll be joining us as we work, issue by issue, to make your FORUM magazine the best reflection of our state it can be.
Thank you so much for reading, and as always, for supporting the humanities in Florida. Have an idea or feedback for FORUM? We’d love it if you’d share it with us. Write Jacki Levine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of FORUM magazine.
Editor, FORUM magazine
Florida Humanities Council