(above) Photo taken Oct. 22 by Amanda Cohen at the Doris’ grand opening.
Eric Lewis scooped up a handful of grey clay, slapped it onto his potter’s wheel, and guided the amorphous lump into a defined vase.
Lewis, 25, is one of six artists in residence at the Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center.
“Tonight, we’re all just really happy,” Lewis, who mostly works in ceramics, said. “Everything is better than we could have expected.”
The hundreds of people who packed The Doris at 716 N. Main St. for its grand opening party Oct. 22 were as varied as the artwork on display. In this kaleidoscope of Gainesville society, surgeons and artists, politicians and models, parents and children created a diverse cross-section of the city. On the walls, a painting of sliced avocados was mounted across from a square of woven yarn in autumnal shades of green and brown.
The artwork in the front gallery was a part of the Six by Six: Getting it Squared Away fundraiser. Over 150 community members, from elementary school students to professional artists, donated over 300 pieces of art for the exhibition. The individual artist was not identified until the piece was bought for a minimum donation of $25.
As the night progressed, the wire racks grew increasingly naked. By the end of the event, over half of the artwork had sold. Other people made donations or became members of the center. All of the money raised will go to support The Doris.
The evening was exactly what the building’s namesake, Doris Bardon, would have wanted, said Norma Homan, treasurer of both The Doris and the Arts Association of Alachua County and one of Bardon’s longtime friends.
“So many people devoted their time and their talent to this event,” Homan said. “It was a real community coming together to create something new. I think that’s always noteworthy.”
Doris Bardon, who passed away in 2006, was an advocate for culture, civic activism and the environment. When she first arrived in Gainesville over 30 years ago, she couldn’t believe there wasn’t even a public radio station, said Homan.
Bardon, a lover of classical music, brought public radio to the city. She was also instrumental in the formation of the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra, served on arts association and theater boards and conceptualized the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Writers Workshop.
She also wrote three books and held piano concerts in her home.
“She had hundred of friends all in different areas,” Homan said. “She just inspired people. She was a brilliant, brilliant woman.”
Bardon left her estate to the Arts Association of Alachua County.
“What Doris wanted was a community cultural center,” Homan said. “It’s a place where the community members can interact with the artists.”
People toured the studios and classrooms behind the front gallery, where the artists in residence demonstrated their craft.
In addition to producing their personal artwork, the artists teach classes in their area of expertise.
“Our mission is to make the arts accessible to everyone,” Sue Johnson, a board member at The Doris, said. “Within everyone is an artist.”
A few paces away from Lewis’ wheel, Cori O’Connor pinched and smoothed one of the brown clay ovals mounted on wires. Eventually, the spherical clay will match her sketch of a quasi-human figure with a man’s body and a raven’s wings and head. She is excited to be one of the members who will mold The Doris from the ground up.
“We’re building a future for other artists who will come after us,” she said.
There are two large studio rooms, which are each divvied into three workstations. The communal space creates an atmosphere of open communication. Three of artists in residence work in three-dimensional mediums ; the other three create two-dimensional pieces.
In the near future, the Doris will expand beyond visual arts. According to Homan, Doris’ Steinway piano will soon be moved to the front gallery. The center is also working with local music groups to hold events there.
“The arts are alive in Gainesville,” Johnson said, “and in this place.”