Downtown fits aims of communicators’ conference


By: Ron Wayne

Who was frank and why will hundreds of people gather in downtown Gainesville in February because of him?

Frank Karel, a University of Florida graduate, was a public interest communicator who worked for 30 years for groups like the Robert Wood Johnson and Rockefeller foundations. The frank conference (lower case and italicized) is named for him and promotes using communication for social change.

Karel and his wife, Betsy, endowed the Karel Chair at his alma mater to build the field of public interest communications. Karel died in 2009, but his legacy continues in a big way via UF and this conference, now in its third year.

Attendance has grown annually, and up to 350 communicators and others from around the country are expected at this year’s conference Feb. 23-26, according to Ellen Nodine, special projects coordinator for UF’s College of Journalism and Communications.

Last year, the conference sponsored a free concert by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band that attracted 3,000 people to the Bo Diddley Community Plaza before it closed for renovations. This year, frank is bringing Charles Bradley, a funk-soul-R&B singer for a free concert as the first event in the newly improved plaza Feb. 25. Bradley, a Gainesville native, has performed at Bonnaroo, South by Southwest (SXSW), Coachella and Newport Folk Festival.

The conference at the Hippodrome State Theatre will bring almost 40 nationally known speakers — scientists, strategists, storytellers, artists and musicians. This is again a boon to the Hipp but also for numerous restaurants, bars and establishments downtown. And that fits the frank mission, organizers say.

“Hosting the frank gathering in downtown Gainesville, rather than in a traditional conference facility, provides our attendees a special atmosphere where they can connect and network,” said Ann Christiano, a public relations professor who holds the Karel Chair position at UF. “We expose them to the unique cultural aspects of Gainesville and enjoy supporting the local vendors, musicians and artists who have always been eager to work with our requests — including serving ice cream from a fire truck on the corner of the street.”

The conference is expanding connections to the community this year by hosting a festival called Changeville, which will take place in various downtown venues with performances by those who use music, film, and virtual reality to drive positive social change. Headliners include The Mountain Goats and Hurray for the Riffraff. Multi-venue tickets for Changeville start at $25 and are on sale at

Returning as conference moderator is Liz Winstead, an author, comedian and co-founder of “The Daily Show.” Speakers will include Eileen Boone, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy for CVS, who was responsible for removing tobacco from CVS; and Nancy Mahon, senior vice president, global philanthropy and corporate citizenship, for The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.

For more information about frank, or to join the conversation, visit


ronRon Wayne is a freelance writer and editor in the Gainesville region. He can be reached at [email protected]

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