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Arts, Culture in Gainesville, FL Contribute to Region’s Cosmopolitan Vibe

Discover how Gainesville, FL's cultural and arts attractions are drawing new residents.

By John Fuller on October 5, 2015

Gainesville, FL
Gainesville / Courtesy of Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art

Sure, it’s a friendly college town, but Gainesville is so much more: an energetic, cosmopolitan oasis rich in cultural, arts, entertainment, educational and outdoor recreation choices. Enlivened by the presence of the University of Florida, Gainesville has attracted talent from around the world, bringing residents who seek out – and create – a vibrant array of amenities and a quality of life that led Forbes to rank it third among cities with the best work-life balance.

Innovation and History

“The pace of life here sets it apart – things just seem to flow, like our springs. It’s steady, it’s going to get there, it’s just not in a hurry to do so,” says John Pricher, director of VisitGainesville. “The University of Florida provides so many amenities for a town our size that have contributed to making it such a great place. It’s wonderful for raising families.”

Gainesville’s youthful demographic and UF’s world-class reputation as a research center are part of its appeal for Creative Class workers and tech innovators, who have been flocking to the city. Innovation Square, adjacent to the university, is an exciting multifaceted center where research and tech collaborators work to bring the “next big thing” to market. Its campus is located close to the city’s beautifully renovated historic downtown, the heart of the city’s dining, music and entertainment life.

“We are blessed with having so many things that are unique, that you’d more likely find in a larger city,” Pricher says. “The restaurant scene, for example. In the historic downtown in a three-square-block area, there’s everything from sushi, to steak to Cuban to vegan. The food is so good it makes you feel like you should dress up — but you don’t need to.”

Arts Flourishing in Gainesville

The arts scene is an important part of Gainesville life. On the university’s campus, the Harn Museum of Art and the Florida Museum of Natural History are both open without charge to the public, and the Phillips Center offers a first-class calendar of performing arts that includes everything from Roseann Cash to Mischa Dichter and the Harlem Quartet. Off-campus, the Hippodrome State Theatre, one of the country’s leading regional theaters, presents professional work to audiences that number more than 60,000 annually. Visual arts are also flourishing in Gainesville.

“The art scene is definitely changing and growing,” says Jeanne Bunting, vice president of the Gainesville Artisans’ Guild, a leader in the city’s art community for 45 years. “The downtown area in the last year and a half has blossomed. Downtown is really developing into an artsy community.”

The Guild maintains its own juried gallery, where its 50-plus members can exhibit and sell high-quality work, which includes pottery, jewelry, textiles, painting, sculpture and photography. Members agree to man the gallery regularly, bringing artists together with the public. The gallery also participates, with other galleries, art supply stores and restaurants, in Art Walk, the last Friday of each month.

Outdoor Living

Warm weather, sun, water and fascinating flora and fauna put outdoor activities at the top of Gainesville’s special attractions, Pricher says, citing the area’s abundant natural cool springs (great for swimming, tubing, kayaking and more), the San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park (7,350 acres of natural beauty, for hiking and mountain biking) and Paynes Prairie, an expansive natural area where you can see alligators in the wild.

Bicycling named Gainesville one of America’s top bike-friendly cities, noting that 5 percent of its residents commute to work by bike. The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail has been cited as one of the state’s premier biking trails, a 16-mile paved trail popular with cyclists, runners and walkers.

“The cultural offerings, the ability to be outside and the friendliness of the community is great for families, or singles, or retirees,” Pricher says. “That balance of having all these opportunities and not having to take very long to get to them really sets Gainesville apart.”

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