The breeze in downtown Bradenton felt faintly Caribbean on Friday evening as salsa music drifted from the courtyard of the South Florida Museum and onto the sidewalks along 10th Street. It’s that kind of breeze with the power to pull one from a quiet evening stroll along the water and into another universe. It’s the kind of breeze that makes me fall for Bradenton—hard.
Or perhaps on Friday evening at Plaza Cubana, it was not the breeze but the company, the conversation, the dancing—and possibly a splash of coconut rum mojito—that cast a spell on me and reminded me what a magical place this city is to live.
I have a confession to make: On paper, I think my life looks pretty cool. I work from home as a freelance writer and I teach yoga on the side—so I have quite a bit of freedom to make my own hours, and I get to wear yoga pants to work literally every day of the week... But sometimes I feel like I just don’t get out enough. Sometimes I relinquish too many of my self-appointed hours of freedom to an indulgent, lazy Netflix binge. Sometimes I let myself forget how many cool things there are to do in this town—and what a diversity of interesting people there are to meet.
[Cue the salsa-tinged breeze that led me into the courtyard of the South Florida Museum on Friday evening, where 300 of my neighbors were socializing and dancing beneath the starlight at Plaza Cubana, Realize Bradenton’s inaugural “PopsUps for a Purpose” event.]
PopUps for a Purpose is part of the Knight Cities Challenge, a nationwide competition that works to foster civic and social engagement through innovative practices in forward-thinking communities. Plaza Cubana is the first in a series of eight pop-up style events that are geared toward bringing young people together around local music, food and the arts. These events are an opportunity for 20-somethings like me (and 30-somethings, and 80-somethings, too) to get out—to get together—to make a connection to their community and with their neighbors.
Plaza Cubana reimagined the South Florida Museum courtyard, for one enchanted evening, as a stylish outdoor lounge and dance floor. Twinkling lights and colorful lanterns set the scene, and the courtyard was transformed, pop-up style, into a sultry night in Havana. Plaza Cubana attendees swayed to salsa in the moonlight and socialized over tapas-style bites of chimichurri, paella and plantains paired with sips of cocktails and local craft beer from Darwin’s Brewery.
We danced. We shared our stories and ideas over tapas with new and old friends. We made connections. Some of us were dressed to the nines; some were dressed casually—and we blended together in a vibrant melting pot of diverse styles, ages, occupations and interests. We played jumbo Jenga, and we signed our names to the blocks to commemorate our participation. In a way, it felt as if we were etching our names and identities into the building-blocks of our community.
We made memories with our friends in the photo booth. We had professional portraits taken as part of the “See Me, Hear Me” project. Geared toward the Millennial generation (age 18-34), “See Me, Hear Me” is a collaborative art project that will display the young faces of our community in downtown Bradenton. It embraces the power of visibility. It gives a face to the local young talent that the city of Bradenton seeks to attract and retain as we look toward a more vibrant future. “See Me, Hear Me” is a declaration that our generation—our ideas, talent and passions—are of value.
At Plaza Cubana, we were came together and we left our signature on our city—and we had fun.
PopUps for a Purpose brings excitement and innovative ideas to unexpected places. They draw out the best of Bradenton—the food, the music, and the people. They foster a sense of not just inclusion, but ownership. They put “I love this town” on the tip of our tongues—and they allow us the voice to say it. They give us a space to share our ideas to make Bradenton an even more vibrant place to live, and a reason to be actively engaged participants in our city’s future.
So, back to my confession: I know, I know—I don’t always get out enough.
Plaza Cubana re-ignited that spark, and reminded me just how much I’m missing out on in this dynamic city during my Netflix binge sessions with my cat. I know that next month, I’ll be leaving my designated “yoga-pants-for-lounging-at-home”—(we all have a pair, right?)—in their drawer. Instead, I’ll be seizing the opportunity to hit the scene and see what else Bradenton has to offer at the next PopUp for a Purpose.
Will I see you there?