Within Sarasota, there is a hidden gem which has been pushed to the sidelines throughout the town’s history: the celebrated African American community, Newtown. However, in recent years, the community has begun shifting into the spotlight as one of Sarasota’s most vibrant, artistic and historic destinations, showing its untapped potential. Thesis student Lauren David was invited by Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition (SAACC) board member and Newtown resident La’Tiara Love to co-curate an art exhibit to highlight the community’s talents. Glimpse of the Artist: A Community Celebration in collaboration with the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition will be featured at the Ringling Museum of Art until April, highlighting different eras within the community as presented in three sections; history, present and future.
The initial inspiration for the exhibit came out of the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic and aims to connect artists and art enthusiasts alike. Featuring works by Newtown-based artists Sean Presley, Gregory Rumph, Clifford McDonald as well as other community members, there is an extensive collection of works for viewers to take in.
“I actually met La’Tiara through Wes Kline when we were working on documentaries for [his] Radiant Communities class,” David said. “She was interested in my work and reached out to me.”
Recently, New College teamed up with Newtown Alive in order to produce documentaries about members in the community. Students were able to connect and learn about the intense history surrounding the area while also playing a part in showcasing the beautiful and unique experience which is Newtown.
“Anything that is genuinely community focused, I’m in and I’m all in,” David continued. “That’s my thing, if that’s what it’s about, you’ll get me every time. I’m invested.”
David explained her perspective going into the community while not being a native to Sarasota itself.
“I think the most frustrating thing to me is going into these communities—because I’m not even from Sarasota—so working with the Newtown community, I’m coming in and trying to amplify the voices,” she said. “People are already doing the work and it’s really just about getting it out there.”
She explained that her main goal is to bring the attention of Sarasota citizens and students alike towards Newtown.
“I loved it ever since the moment I began filming it,” David said. “I believe my introduction to Newtown was a rather unique one, because again, I was in this documentary class and we were trying to look at it through a very specific lens and not even just find the beauty in everything, but really trying to immerse yourself and trying to learn about it.”
When asked about her experiences with outsider perspectives on Newtown, David had this to say.
“Somebody I was talking to yesterday described Newtown as the place in Lion King that you cannot go,” she said. “This is the place where you do not go. It’s scary because people are living and existing in this place that is considered, to a lot of people, the land you do not go to. Well, why? And then I ask them if they have ever been there and they said no, so perception is everything.”
With such a long history of alienation from the surrounding areas, it can be hard to break this pattern.
“A bunch of people are scared of this place that they have never interacted with, never spoken to, it’s weird,” David continued. “It’s weird to have disdain or have any sort of judgment for a place you have never set foot in. These imaginary lines of separation do a disservice to the community and to you too, because we as individuals, whether we feel we need it or not, rely heavily on community. There is so much history there, I want people to go and see for yourself and then talk to me.”
She explained that the Glimpse of the Artist exhibit is free for everyone to visit and urged people to take advantage of this opportunity to celebrate the artistic expression of community members.
“It was originally La’Tiara’s idea three years ago during COVID-19, so it came about out of this frustration,” David elaborated. ”She really wanted to be able to connect artists and art enthusiasts that were having a hard time because everything was shut down. If we could just have a glimpse into these peoples’ lives, something of celebration and hope, something to get us through this time, it was a big thing for her.”
The exhibition is split up into three main parts including the history, present and future of Newtown. Guests are also able to listen to interviews with the artists about their work and long time members of the community such as Jetson Grimes, a hair stylist who is located in the heart of Newtown, who further give a glimpse into the lives of those living in the area.
“I recommend that everyone go and experience it because there is so much here, not just Newtown,” David said. ”There is so much in Sarasota, and while you’re here, why not?”