Over the past few years, Sherryl Muriente noticed that almost every region of downtown Fort Lauderdale began to flourish with art and culture except the historically black Sistrunk Boulevard area. She especially noticed the new trolley running between Sistrunk and FAT Village. Even though galleries were opening in Sistrunk, art aficionados were not getting off at the Sistrunk trolley stops to check them out. That’s when the 36-year-old of Placemaking and Community Engagement director at Florida Atlantic University's Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions (CUES) started thinking.
With the support of the local CRA and a team of ten others at CUES, Muriente got to work. For the past year, she and her team have interviewed residents and planned ways to connect them through Sistrunk’s local art scene.
On Saturday afternoon, Muriente will unveil her plan: a repurposed shipping container that functions as a stage and hosts events by Sistrunk residents for Sistrunk residents. It’s called the Megaphone because it’s expected to serve as the symbolic voice of the community. (She worked previously on a project in West Palm Beach called C'est La Via, a grassroots project bringing local artists and business owners to repurpose alleyways.)
“There are so many different entities in the neighborhood, but they had no creative outlet connecting them,” Muriente explains. “From the YMCA to Art House and Refresh Live Café, there is so much art and soul in Sistrunk, and the Megaphone will hopefully pump energy into the area’s local arts.”
The shipping container was built thanks to Jason McLendon from Bay Atlantic Living. A mural of a man playing the trumpet was painted on the outside. It currently sits in an empty lot at Tenth Avenue and Sixth Street. The land is partly owned by the Fort Lauderdale CRA and the City of Fort Lauderdale. Muriente hopes community residents embrace the idea and will eventually run it themselves with program funding coming from other nonprofits in the area.
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“We’re a catalyst. We go in, activate, and leave them to run it on their own,” Muriente says. “We’ll stay around for a few months coaching them on how to pull permits and other practical things, but we want them to be able to use the Megaphone to empower themselves.”
Events planned so far include free haircuts, workshops on how to repurpose furniture, painting classes, storytelling, and live music. Guests will also speak about issues particularly important to the Sistrunk community. Educator and radio show host Monalisa Weber will speak about how the public can navigate the criminal justice system with information specific to probation and judicial offices. Local radio show host Jasmen Rogers will be speaking about the work being done in the community. She’ll also talk about overcoming oppression through self-love and love of each other and of the community.
“The Megaphone brings hope. It's an establishment of a safe space where community members can meet and share their stories and experiences,” Rogers says. “It is of vital importance that we keep the lifeblood of Sistrunk pumping through our generation before it's taken away from us. These stories belong to all of us and need to be heard by everyone.”