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Inside the Walls of 352

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Art lives in the spirit of downtown Gainesville. It can be felt by those who have spent time walking its streets – from the atmosphere of the restaurants, to the sounds of strumming buskers or muffled rock music coming from bars. Yet, it was nearly impossible to see it. Art, from a visual standpoint, was secluded to a few galleries, show posters and haphazardly placed stickers on light posts.

Last year, Iryna Kanishcheva, a 34-year-old street art enthusiast from Lviv, Ukraine, set out to change that in a big way. She’d spent her adult life living in Ukraine, France and traveling across Europe, a continent that has a more liberated view of art’s range and purpose. She loved seeing art on full display, blending seamlessly between community and commerce in the world’s most heralded urban areas. Shortly after moving to Gainesville in 2013 with her husband, a researcher at the University of Florida, she noticed virtually no traces of the artistic potential she knew existed within the town and UF.

“When I came to Gainesville I was disappointed there were no public art projects. We have so many young people here…but no contemporary festival or event,” Kanishcheva said. “I decided to write an offer to the city to bring something here.”

That proposal was the infancy of the 352walls and Gainesville Urban Art Initiative. The concept was rooted in hiring artists from the region and around the globe to come to Gainesville and reinvent downtown’s most visible vacant walls. Her vision wasn’t just to beautify Gainesville, but to jumpstart its artistic viability as a destination. Outside of Miami, contemporary art is largely foreign to Florida. Though not an artist herself, Kanishcheva, was able to visualize her goals and make them reality.

“I was hoping to do one or two murals at the minimum. I started contacting business owners about the possibility of having international artists paint on their walls. Typically these kinds of festivals aren’t produced by cities but through private organizations, but you can have a wider scope if you go through a city,” she said. “I talked to the city’s cultural department, and everyone loved the project.”

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