Matthew Leight – The Corsair
On the corner of 12th and Gonzalez is where more than 75 artisans and vendors converged for two days of art, music and food. My initial reasons for writing about the New Beginnings Festival were less than virtuous. My mother had displayed an interest in attending the event and likewise had requested my company. Secondly, I ignorantly deduced that if I were going to be subjected to a festival of “yuppies” with crafts posing as art, I might as well find a back-story and manipulate it into a news piece.
However, as so often happens in life, things weren’t as they seemed. It turned out that this story ended up manipulating me! Hopefully I am a better person because of it. This show was full of smiling faces, brilliant art and much more to boot. In addition, there were three people that more specifically left an impact on me that will not soon be erased.
It was shortly after arriving that I met Linda Shannon of Panama City Beach’s “Cottage Collages.” I heard this social, yet unassuming woman describing to a consumer the origin of a wood table that sat on display. According to Shannon, the wood came from one of Panama City Beach’s longest standing buildings. I had to find out more about this woman’s work. Without reservation, she told me that she had always loved antiques. However, she had never had the resources by which to afford them. It was for that reason that she went on to create a similar art on her own. She confided to me that she receives an immense satisfaction from creating something out of nothing. But this nothing isn’t treated, freshly-cut wood that she uses. Instead, it is material that has most often been beat up and discarded. It is via her love and goodwill that it is given a new life as something greater than it had ever been before. This theme seemed to continually emerge throughout this festive day.
Soon after leaving Linda’s booth and in desperate need of shade, I came upon the music pavilion. It was here, where a young lady of 17 and her father were playing their musical styling’s for all to hear. I sat under the shade of a tree so that I might have a chance to compose myself. It was only then that I realized the beauty of the music being played in proximity to me. Anna Jeter, a student of Pensacola High, displayed the voice of an angel. Together with her father’s assistance, it was accompanied by the sounds of a standing bass and an acoustic guitar. With the vibrancy of a child and the poise an adult she shared that she had just composed most of the songs that she was performing that day.
After her set, I spoke with this gifted girl who appeared to be “17 going on 30”. I asked her what it was that brought her out in this humid, unforgiving ninety degree weather to share her art for free. Her answer was quite simple. “Well this is my third year,” she told me, “I do a lot of things like this around town.” So matter of fact, was her retort. Whether it was a result of the rearing she received from her parents, a natural insight that she possessed or a combination of the two, Anna seemed to imply that it’s just what people do. Her actions appeared to speak volumes more than she would admit to me about her attitude in words. It was this attitude that said to me that placing yourself second to the greater good of others, should simply be the way we live our lives.
Refreshed on more than one level, it was time to go in search of the interview I had come to do. I had no clue of what to expect, but I was going to find Ms. Deborah Tracy (owner of Angel’s Garden) and get the low-down on just what was so inspirational about this event. What had produced the positive attitudes that I had encountered thus far? It wasn’t more than ten seconds after meeting the curly haired blonde, buzzing around like a bee, that it was evident what had turned this festival from what it used to be, into what it was today. That profound, yet simple catalyst was good ole’ fashion love.
It is hard for the casual observer to believe that this festival of color made its humble beginnings as a nine vendor display in Debbie’s backyard at the intersection A and Government St. In 1995, it was Debbie, with the assistance of nine artful acquaintances, who founded what is now the New Beginnings Art Show. “To me it was the biggest show ever,” Tracy stated with a smile. She continued, “And now I don’t even know how it’s all happened, because of so many awesome people, artists and volunteers this thing is gonna grow every year.” The proceeds from this festival have, ever since its opening days, benefited the community. This year proceeds and donations will be given to the Favor House.
According to their brochure Favor House was founded in 1979. The goals of Favor House have been to: establish violence free homes, provide safety for victims of abuse and children, break the cycle of violence and ultimately hold offenders accountable. They do this on a daily basis by providing physical shelter, victim advocacy, and community education among other services.
In addition to all of her proceeds from the sales of vendor spots, t-shirts, soda’s, etc., going to the Favor House, Tracy continues on an annual basis to donate large vending areas to ARC Gateway. This is so that ARC might sell both artwork and plants, created in association with, and to support, their clients with developmental disabilities.
I had further inquired with Tracy in relation to whether it was specifically the empowerment of women that motivated her daily life. She briskly responded, “Empowerment for people! I am all about inspiring myself as well as anybody who comes in that shop to realize that you don’t have tomorrow. You better do what you can today, because you don’t know when your time is up. So why waste it?”
This art show was wonderful for the community and a smashing success for the plight of domestic abuse victims and survivors alike. However, Deborah’s work does not end when the canopies are taken down and the art is packed away. She continues to use her place of business, Angel’s Garden, as a conduit through which she educates people on life, love, and empowerment. It is a boutique located on 1208 North 12th Avenue where you can stop to peruse the arts or to take in a quick dose of inspiration.
She left me with a parting quote that I hope you, too, take time to ponder. She quickly grabbed hold of my hand and said this, “We’re all in this together, aren’t we? If one person takes another person’s hand and that person takes another person’s hand, the domino effect is just incredible!”
Am I? Scratch that. Are we, as individuals and a community consciously making decisions aware of the domino effect that we are creating? Grab someone’s hand. Give someone a hug. Tell someone that you love them. Hey, after all “we’re all in this together, aren’t we?”
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, please Contact Favor House immediately (24 hours/day) at (850) 434-6600. Donations or other inquiries for Favor House can be directed to 2001 W. Blount Street, Pensacola FL, 32501.
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