CMC celebrates 30 years of community, education

by  F. Stewart-Taylor and J.D. Schmidt

Oct. 13 marks the 30th anniversary of the Civic Media Center, Gainesville’s beloved radical library and organizing space. To celebrate, the CMC is launching a fundraiser and inviting community members to share stories from their time at the Center. 

The CMC’s #30for30 campaign requests that community members share their favorite stories from the CMC, accompanied by a $30 donation to support the Center’s future.

With three decades of organizing, art, and education in the heart of Gainesville, the CMC has seen a lot of history, and even played a role in making some. 

The center was founded by a group of UF and Gainesville activists with a mission to promote progressive viewpoints not available in the mainstream press. Since that time, the Center has experienced significant growth and change, including a move from University Avenue to its current Main St. location in 2009. At that time the circulating library, the heart of the Civic Media Center’s educational mission, expanded with a significant donation from folklorist and activist Stetson Kennedy.

The Civic Media Center also boasts an expansive collection of alternative periodicals, which reflects the work of Charles Willett. Willett was a CMC co-founder and publisher of the alternative press journal, Counterpoise, which built connections between Gainesville and the larger alternative press movement. 

Librarian and artist Travis Fristoe co-founded the CMC’s unique zine and ephemera collection to share and preserve the history and art of the Do-It-Yourself movement, and the CMC is now home to one of the largest entirely public collections of zines in the southeastern United States.

Local musician Laura Jane Grace and other bands credit the CMC with hosting some of their early shows. Social movement work has always had a home under the CMC’s roof. Many local grassroots organizations, working on every issue our society struggles over, have held meetings, film screenings, workshops, talks, and fundraisers in the space over the course of the last thirty years. 

The CMC has hosted a Black history free school, many iterations of the food sharing group Food Not Bombs, a coffee co-op, and clothing and household goods donation drives through the monthly Free Store. 

As an all ages DIY arts venue, the Civic Media Center has hosted bands and artists across the musical spectrum, holding punk shows for FEST and bluegrass jams alike, as well as one of the longest running poetry events in north Florida, with the weekly Thursday Night Poetry Jam open mic.

The key to the Civic Media Center’s long success is its grassroots staffing and fundraising model. While the Center is a 501c3 nonprofit, it eschews corporate grants and instead focuses on a model co-founder Joe Courter describes as “visibility plus credibility equals sustainability.” 

Membership in the library grants visitors the right to check out books from the circulating collection, and enables the CMC to keep the doors open for library hours and pay-what-you-can events. Besides one coordinator, who facilitates events and manages core CMC programs, the Center is entirely volunteer run, from staffing the library to planning shows and events. Volunteers describe their time at the CMC as transformative, providing education and creating new friendships, but also teaching them skills including cataloging books and running a soundboard for live music.

To share your CMC story, please email Coordinators@CivicMediaCenter.Org, or use the hashtag #CMC30for30 on social media. Donations of any size can be sent through paypal or venmo @CMC4ever, or sent via check to 433 S. Main St (32601). 

Stories received before Oct. 13 may be shared on social media to mark the anniversary, and the Center has plans to compile stories and photographs from thirty years of Gainesville radical history into an anniversary zine before an in-person anniversary event in December.

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