Rosemary Art and Design District Hopes to Write History with Public Art

Arts & Culture

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY APR 30, 2021

As a fourth generation Sarasota native, the history of the region lives in Walter Gilbert’s bones. He knows that the Rosemary District used to be called Overtown, that it once served as the center of commerce for the city’s Black residents during segregation and that the building at 513 Central Avenue was built by Leonard Reid, one of Sarasota’s earliest Black settlers. He knows a lot about the past, and the past is where he turns to make sure that before Sarasota reinvents itself, it rediscovers itself.

“I know a lot of Sarasota history,” says Gilbert, “and unfortunately, that also means I know about how the history of the Rosemary area has been obliviated.”

Little remains of the founding infrastructure of the Overtown area except for an odd building here and there, sometimes without even a historic designation to mark it. And it is just this marking that Gilbert hopes to achieve as one of the founding members of Rosemary Art and Design District (RADD).

As previously introduced in this Wednesday’s SRQ Daily, RADD hopes to memorialize the rich Black history of the Rosemary District with a campaign of historically informed murals. That mission came from Gilbert’s deep connection to the area and his dismay at so much of the history being lost to development. “I approached a lot of people with my idea of painting on some of these buildings,” he says, “and some were like, ‘Who? What?’” Others were pretty receptive.

As Gilbert assembled his team of like-minded luminaries, the conversation quickly went beyond murals. “Sarasota is famous for its art,” says Gilbert, “but we want to make the Rosemary District a cultural center. We’re talking about RADD walks, doing festivals and trying to cultivate and attract more Black business owners.”

But ultimately, the goal Gilbert envisioned for RADD is about starting a conversation. “I want to make sure the history is still on display and that’ll be talked about. People will see a mural and wonder, ‘who is that?’ And we’ll be there to answer that question.”

RADD officially kicks off its Gilbert Mural Initiative today at 6pm at 600 Central Avenue.

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