On Monday, November 23, 1987, barely 90 days after the historic town of Eatonville had completed its Centennial celebration, the Board of Commissioners for the County of Orange (Florida) unanimously passed the resolution authorizing five-laning of Kennedy Boulevard, the main street of "the oldest incorporated Black municipality in the United States" and hometown of Zora Neale Hurston, noted twentieth century writer, folklorist and anthropologist. Though Eatonville's citizens and friends could neither believe nor understand the Commission's decision, they did recognize the preservation of the Eatonville community must become a major goal if this unique town and the cultural traditions it represents were to survive.
On December 7, some 200 persons from Eatonville, Maitland, and other areas of Orange County organized The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, which was incorporated in May of 1988. During its first year, P.E.C. was primarily an advocacy organization, focusing on preservation strategies, including completing an historic survey of the Town and taking steps to delay the road-widening project. It also began planning for its first major cultural event -- the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. This annual event has become internationally recognized as a premier festival celebrating the heritage and culture of African-descended peoples.
Following the overwhelmingly successful first Hurston Festival in 1990, the organization left its primary advocacy stance and began to focus on cultural programming. The temporary office space it had acquired was retained, and in July, P.E.C. opened the Zora Neale Hurston Museum of Fine Arts with a showing of works by Arthur C. Rayford. Since that time, new exhibitions have opened bi-monthly, offering both established and promising artists a place to showcase their work and providing a place to view the creative work of people of African descent on a year-round basis.
Because of its interest in the preservation of culture from one generation to the next, P.E.C. has developed a vibrant program for youth. Known as the Zora Neale Hurston Youth Institute, this component provides year-round training in the performing and fine arts for youth, grades 1-8. The institute includes the Summer Performing Arts Workshop (SPAW), the ZORA! Players Preparatory Workshop, and the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts ART CLUB. In February 1997, P.E.C. opened the Excellence Without Excuse (E-WE) Community Computer Arts Lab. The purpose of the lab is to strengthen the reading skills of both youth and adult populations and to assist those seeking employment by providing a community-based location for instruction in upgrading of computer skills.
From its founding, P.E.C. has recognized that the cultural arts can revitalize a community and be the catalyst for economic development. It has developed several revenue-generating programs: visits from special groups and conventioneers, curriculum materials, merchandise sales and rental of a traveling museum exhibit. Since 1995, P.E.C. has been a member of the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors' Bureau and is actively promoting Eatonville as a literary destination. Another area of development for P.E.C. involves collaborative ventures. In 1996, the organization joined with five partners to form a collaborative growth initiative, funded by the Orange County Citizens Commission for Children, and designed to prepare families for success in 21st century America. As P.E.C. closes out ifs first decade of service, the organization focuses attention on its ultimate goal -- developing the historic Eatonville community into one of America's premier heritage communities.