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Arts & Culture

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‘The Sanford Project’ weaves together a community

Photography exhibit presents a more complete picture of the city

Photo: Photo by Christopher Keith Garcia, License: N/A

Photo by Christopher Keith Garcia

Photo: Photo by Aaron Harriss, License: N/A

Photo by Aaron Harriss


THE SANFORD PROJECT OPENING SHOW

7-11 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22 | Orange Studio, 1121 N. Mills Ave. | thesanfordproject.com | free

“I was in New York this summer, and people from Europe would come up to me and be like, ‘Oh, you’re from Florida? Oh, do you know about that Trayvon Martin case?’ From fucking Europe, OK?”

Liv Zuk has developed some pretty strong opinions about Sanford during the past year, but they’re not the ones shared by the national news media.

“Sanford has been branded; it’s been marked,” says Zuk. “This is about showing people the other side.”

Zuk is referring to a photography exhibit that is the artistic outcome of the Sanford Project, a group of students and artists she leads in pursuit of “the unique culture and character of a city that’s been misinterpreted by the media.”

On Saturday, Feb. 22, the project will debut 24 large photographs of residents of a place known mostly for the racially charged murder of a teenager. But the spotlight this time will be on Sanford’s humanity and promise, beyond its reputation as an Old South city where racial segregation still reverberates.

The widespread misinterpretations of Sanford became apparent to Zuk when she first visited the city of approximately 53,000 residents in 2012, as part of a Rollins College civic urbanism course taught by Winter Park architect (and Orlando Weekly contributor) Richard Reep.

“You hear the black community’s stories there, and they’re beautiful and rich and vibrant, but they have almost nothing in common with the white community’s stories,” says Reep. “Liv is trying to stitch those together and find some overlap.”

Zuk was struck by the contrast between real-life Sanford and the televised version, which seemed to portray it as little other than a backwoods, backwater murder-trial setting.

“We were interested because of hearing on the news and on the radio that in Sanford there was a lot of violence, that there were riots, that there was all this backlash,” says Zuk. “We were in Sanford, and we weren’t seeing any of that.”

Zuk did see the lasting scars of a city only recently relieved of institutional racism, a city that ran Jackie Robinson out of town in 1946.

“I’ve talked to people who told me, ‘I remember the first time I was able to eat at a place where white people were eating,’ says Zuk. “In a lot of ways, Sanford is a time capsule.”

This led Zuk to seek a PhotoWings social entrepreneurship grant through Ashoka U, with the help of another Rollins professor, to fund the project. The grant’s emphasis on community-building paired neatly with Zuk’s long-term vision of a multimedia platform for small cities to better identify themselves.

Zuk graduated in December with a degree in environmental studies and civic urbanism. She says the project confirms her belief that communities, like individuals, thrive and heal more quickly when they know their neighbors.

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