Gainesville celebrated community and creativity this month during the 33rd annual Downtown Festival and Art Show. The festival, held from Nov. 8-9, 2014, also marked another special anniversary—the 25th year the Imagination Station.
The Imagination Station, which is sponsored annually by the UF Art Education program, first debuted at the downtown festival in 1989, after an idea was suggested to UF Associate Professor Dr. Craig Roland as the first children’s art area to be at the event.
“I agreed and put a table from the art department in the back of my truck along with some art supplies I got out of a closet in our area and headed downtown on a Saturday with a few of my art education students.”
In 1989, the station simply offered a drawing activity table and had enough supplies to last about an hour. We’ve grown considerably since those early days, Roland said.
“This year we offered book-making, tempra painting, puppet-making, torn-paper face collage, crazy hats made from colored pipe cleaners, bead-making, newspaper hats and chalk drawing,” said Roland.
Roland estimates that about 600 books and more than 500 paintings were made. There was a steady stream of kids into the area on both days of the festival.
According to Roland, it took about 20 volunteers per day to run the station. Volunteers included UF art education students and faculty, other UF students and local high school students who worked through the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.
“I've always seen the Imagination Station as an opportunity for our students to ‘give something back’ to the community of Gainesville,” Roland said. “It enables our students to see how art education can function outside of the typical school classroom setting.”
Lindsay Kessler, a Master of Art Education student and graduate teaching assistant, said she was simply in awe of how creative and engaged children were at the festival.
Kessler was in charge of gathering and organizing both supplies and volunteers, and worked directly with children at the event.
“I had so much fun training the volunteers, most of whom had no background in art, and it was so exciting to see these high school and college-aged kids trying new things and working with art materials,” Kessler said. “I love bringing art to the community. It was a lot of work, but it was incredibly worth it.”
Molly Kempson, a first-year graduate art education student, also played a large role in the festival by helping rally volunteers and manage station logistics.
“It was a crazy fun mess—so many happy faces!” she said. “My feet were killing me from standing and my face hurt from smiling, but I was having so much fun I didn't notice until the end of the second day. It's so awesome to see these kids feel free to make stuff.”
Linda Piper, events coordinator with the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs agreed that the Imagination Station gives local children a place to be freely creative.
“The Imagination Station has been a wonderful addition to the festival,” Piper said. “Each year, children look forward to this hands-on art experience where they get to explore their own artistic creativity.”
Roland said that the event is really about UF art students interacting with the Gainesville community in a creative way.
“I had a young mother share with me on Saturday that she had come to the Imagination Station while growing up in Gainesville and now brings her daughter to the area to do some of the same activities she did herself years ago,” he said. “That moment gave me goose bumps.”
To view more photos from this year’s Imagination Station, click here.