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Imagination will take you everywhere

Imagination will take you everywhere

The Hogwarts Express was a crowd pleaser for youngsters at a recent Harry Potter themed fundraiser for the Arts Academy. The train was donated by the Milam family for the event. Photo courtesy of Meredith Beaupre

“Logic will get you from A to B,” said Albert Einstein. “Imagination will take you everywhere.”

And nothing quite fires the imagination like the arts.

Lighting a candle in the twilight are Michael Ekbladh and the members of First United Methodist Church of Gainesville.

Studying the area around the downtown church, Ekbladh found everything east of the church was "neglected. There is not a lot of investment."

Hugh McDowell, right, a popular Santa in and around Gainesville at Christmas, donned Dumbledore’s robes for the Harry Potter fundraiser. He is pictured with Michael Ekbladh. Photo courtesy of Meredith Beaupre

Anyone on the east side would need to travel at least two miles or as many as seven miles, to take a music lesson.

"A lot of people on the east side just don't have the (financial resources) to do that," said Ekbladh, the church’s director of music ministries.

A large church founded in 1857, First UMC Gainesville has the space to accommodate lessons, so members of the church formed a task force last fall to investigate the possibility of hosting lessons on their campus. As a result, church members decided to make rooms available for private instruction.

The Arts Academy will initially host music lessons, but there are plans to add art to the curriculum. The classes will be open to anyone "but we are reaching out especially to the east side of Gainesville," Ekbladh said.

“It’s a fantastic (idea),” said Meredith Beaupre, a lifelong member of Gainesville First UMC and a member of the Arts Academy Task Force. “We have a very vibrant arts community in Gainesville … but we do have a gap in terms of accessibility, especially in the area where our church is located.

“This is a wonderful way for us to take the blessing of our location and the wonderful facilities we have to bless others and share opportunities with them they may not have access to. Hopefully, this will make art lessons and fine arts performances a little bit more equitable in our community.”

Cuts in arts education in schools and a tight fist in Tallahassee have dimmed the lights for the arts in Florida in recent years. State funding for arts and culture programs fell to $2.7 million in 2018, down from $43 million in 2015.

State legislators passed a $91.1-billion budget that includes $21.25 million in arts grants through the Division of Cultural Affairs. It awaits the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Michael Ekbladh, director of music ministries at First United Methodist Church of Gainesville, center, with Senior Pastor Rev. Beth Farabee, right, and Meredith Beaupre. Photo courtesy of Meredith Beaupre

Other members of the Academy are Senior Pastor Rev. Beth Farabee, Director of Children, Youth and Family Ministries Jesse Letourneau, Dorothea Baxter, Karin Jeter, Chris Qualmann, April Zink, Lynda Knight, Sondra Moorhead and Cheryl Betz.

Church members are also raising money to fund scholarships for any students who may need help paying for classes. Registration for the Academy is set for August.

The community is welcoming the project if the preliminary interest is any indication.

"We haven't put the word out for instrument donations, but I have already had one lady bring in a trumpet. One of my choir members is also donating a flute," said Ekbladh who has a masters degree in Music-Conducting from Texas Christian University. Others have offered to donate their time to teach lessons.

"With arts funding being cut all the time in schools, there is obviously a need. During the Renaissance, it was the Church that was the catalyst for art, so we might as well do it again," Ekbladh said.

Everyone, regardless of their race or socio-economic background, should have an opportunity to study the arts.

"It may turn out they just do it as a hobby, but we also may find someone who truly has a gift that could excel if just given the chance. To put it in theological terms, Christ came for everybody, so everybody has an equal chance,” Ekbladh said.

“The church has not just to preach it, but walk it; not just talk the talk but actually walk the walk."

For more information on the Arts Academy, to donate an instrument or learn how you can help, email Ekbladh at

—Kevin Brady is a freelance writer based in Brandon.