Faith Arts Village Orlando, more commonly known as FAVO, has grown into a haven for artists in the downtown Orlando area. What was once an abandoned motel has now transformed into what Will Benton, FAVO’s executive director, and artist, calls a “creative village”.
The motel's property was purchased in 2002 by Park Lake Presbyterian Church mainly to provide members of the church with more parking. It would serve as that until Benton along with pastors at the church proposed the idea of doing something creative with the space. It was then that Benton recalls “they kind of handed me the keys”.
To get FAVO up and running, Benton had his work cut out for him. The condition of the motel when he first began this process was as Benton puts it “beyond gross”. Each room was still full of furniture and mattresses, meaning it was Benton's job to clear them out.
Once done, he had to now sell the idea of this creative village to the congregation of the church. It didn’t take long to get approval from the church “They loved it, they paid for all of the renovations for us to be able to open, so that’s where it started,” said Benton.
A formerly abandoned motel room can be seen today as a fully functioning art studio. FAVO is comprised of 22 studios that are occupied by working artists. Each artist pays rent monthly as they would in any typical studio. Yet, at FAVO artists have the freedom to access their studio whenever they please, making their abilities to produce art fit better into their busy lives.
Benton, who is originally from Kentucky, moved to Orlando in his twenties after graduating from college and has been here ever since. As the executive director of FAVO, he didn’t start painting until he began managing the property, “Hanging out with artists encouraged me to start painting,” Benton said.
Driven by his need to always keep moving forward toward new goals, Benton said FAVO is constantly trying to reinvent itself. With so many artists and creative venues in Orlando Benton said, “The art scene here is growing by leaps and bounds”. FAVO is able to find its place in Orlando's bustling art scene by holding monthly art shows comprised of food trucks, live music, and of course art along with all the artists.
For FAVO’s artists, the impact of these shows is huge, “The monthly open house events allow these artists a chance to share their work with the public within the context of its place of origin and without having to limit the public presence of their work to more traditional routes of exhibition,” said Richard Munster a FAVO artist.
Apart from the monthly events, each artist can choose to open their studio doors for other reasons. For some artists that means bringing in clients to view their work, for others it means teaching art classes to children. This unique ability given to FAVO’s artists allows them to have the freedom they might not typically get elsewhere. “I have been allowed to use the space to elevate and help prop up artists,” said Munster.
According to Munster, Orlando is “desperately in need of more working art studio spaces.” FAVO can be seen giving back to the community as it allows these artists not only the space they need, but more importantly, support.
The support between FAVO’s artists is what helps them be such a tight-knit family-like community. Benton says making FAVO a community of people as opposed to a competition between artists is something he emphasizes. This sense of community is a prevalent force throughout FAVO. “We like hanging out and sharing inspiration, as to how did you create that technique, how did you do this, instead of just everyone doing their own thing,” said Benton.
When it comes to helping others in the Orlando community, FAVO is quick to lend a hand. “We’re not just here to show art,” said Benton. Every year they can be seen collecting backpacks, bikes, Christmas trees, and more for families in need. Some of the beneficiaries they've so graciously given back to have been single mothers, refugee children, Grace medical, and many more.
We're always finding new ways to help, and thinking what’s another organization that needs help and how can we help them? - Will Benton
Benton’s hope for FAVO looking forward is to continue to make a positive impact in the community. “We’re not looking to be this monstrous entity,” said Benton, “We just want to be our little part of downtown and help anybody that we can."