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A work by Nate Dee, one of the exhibitors at Sistrunk-A-Fair.EXPAND
A work by Nate Dee, one of the exhibitors at Sistrunk-A-Fair.
Courtesy of Yo Space Gallery & Studio

Sistrunk-A-Fair Is "History in the Making" for Artists of Color

Culturally, it sometimes feels like Broward County is the Robin to Miami-Dade's Batman. Miami has the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Rubell Family Collection, the Institute of Contemporary Art... the list of awe-inspiring art spaces in the city stretches on. From Art Basel to Ultra Music Festival and beyond, the 305 has landed itself center stage in a show of world acclaim.

But those of us from the neighboring 954 must peer out enviously from behind the curtain. A minor opening act drawing lukewarm applause, we hover just out of sight, there merely to warm the audience up for the star thousands flock to see. Always a bridesmaid and never a bride, goes the adage. Until now.

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The tides of 2019 are already changing in the county's favor. Sistrunk-A-Fair is launching a week of art events from January 17-26. Thanks to a partnership between Art N Soul, C.R.E.A.T.E., and Art Fort Lauderdale, artists from all over Fort Lauderdale, Dania, Pearl City, and Hallandale will display their works.

A project six months in the making, Sistrunk-A-Fair is the brainchild of local curators Al Huggins and Manuel George. Huggins has worked in the art world for over a decade; he says the idea for the fair came to him and co-creator George in the form of a personal missive. "We want to create a platform for artists in Broward [who] normally wouldn't get a platform to display their work," says Huggins. "The Sistrunk-A-Fair gives them that."

Named after Dr. James Sistrunk — one of the first black physicians in Broward County — Sistrunk Boulevard is being restored from empty lots and shuttered buildings back to Fort Lauderdale's hub of business vitality, due to property investment increases first reported in late 2017. Huggins and George's art festival is sure to add to this economic revival.

Around 25 local artists will be showcased between the two key exhibits during the week of events: BASE and Art Walk. Among these will be Corrine Salmon, Nate Dee, Sean Simpson, Will Simpson, Frank Frazier, and Adewale Adenle. Huggins has worked with all of the artists who will be displayed, so he's hard-pressed to pick one particular style as his favorite. "I'm very excited to see all of these artists that will be part of this event...This will be history in the making for the Sistrunk area, and for artists of color," says the curator.

Relatively unknown creators will be featured alongside appearances by bigger names. Acclaimed sneaker virtuoso Van Monroe will host a talk at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center. Monroe is famous for his customized sneakers featuring Barack Obama that took him from broke and nearly homeless to viral Internet sensation turned in-demand designer. Everyone from Spike Lee, Sean Combs, Hugh Jackman, Ellen DeGeneres, and Nicki Minaj own a pair of his customized kicks, and the original shoes are being showcased in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Huggins says the shoe maven will be there to inspire others with his story.

Spoken word poetry will also be celebrated, as "AnniFLÓetry" at the Broward Performing Arts Center is set to close out the fair on January 26. Poets "May Reign," QUICK2Love, Inc & FLO'etry (FLO4Me) Ent., and Jerris "QUICKThePoet" Evans are hosting the performance best described as "a nonstop energetic spoken word rollercoaster production."

Along with their desire to showcase local talent, Huggins and George's overarching aim is to bring the community together. "We're trying to cover all aspects of community development, with the [Martin Luther King Day] organized cleanup and we're also looking to add a few murals to Sistrunk," Huggins says. Art enthusiasts can also expect this to become an annual event, as Huggins is already planning 2020's Sistrunk-A-Fair.

It may not be in the same world-class league as Art Basel, but the unspoken promise of what this cultural contribution could represent to a neighborhood brimming with diverse, undiscovered talent is equally important to the people of Broward County.

And as for the wider area's "sidekick" persona to the metropolitan area to the south? He may be underappreciated, but Robin has the potential to one day surpass his mentor. Broward's in the same boat.

Sistrunk-A-Fair. Thursday, January 17, through Saturday, January 26. Multiple locations throughout northwest Fort Lauderdale. Visit sistrunkafair.com.

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