￼￼￼A head-turning seascape in Springfield and visual history lesson in East Jacksonville symbolize hope in those urban core neighborhoods.
The bold street art served as jump starts to a community-driven initiative to attain a higher quality of life in areas that include housing, family income, economic development, education , and healthy environments and lifestyles.
Jacksonville’s Building EPIC Communities project is modeled after the national Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s (LISC) successful Building Sustainable Communities program. Appropriately, EPIC stands for Empower People, Inspire Change. Since its inception in May 2012, hundreds of residents and other stakeholders have weighed in ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼with ideas, requests and commitments at community forums. LISC Jacksonville partners with Operation New Hope to oversee the massive endeavor in the Historic Eastside/Springfield urban centers. EPIC’s pilot project also includes underprivileged neighborhoods in Northwest Jacksonville, where the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation works with LISC to engage the community. More than four hundred supporters, including Mayor Alvin Brown, attended EPIC’s official kickoff at Everbank Stadium in January 2013.
While programs such as former Mayor John Delaney’s Springfield Initiative and Intensive Care Neighborhoods, launched in the 1990s, sparked significant improvements in housing and infrastructure, for the most part major business corridors in EPIC’s urban core areas continue to struggle. Although some residents remain skeptical of another study where planning may or may not evolve into implementing, overall, optimism for EPIC is high.
Initial Strategy: Use the murals to attract business.
“Art has always been a leading part of redevelopment,” says Kevin Gay, president and CEO of Operation New Hope, nationally recognized for its work to revitalize communities and rebuild lives in Jacksonville’s urban core. “We thought taking eyesores and getting well respected artists to do some murals and painting was a great way for people to begin to see changes taking place.”
Janet Owens, executive director of LISC, calls the art experiment “pretty exciting.” She notes that in addition to a $900,000 challenge grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and the Community Foundation, and contributions from other sponsors to fund EPIC, Wells Fargo provided start-up action grants used toward the artwork.
“Residents have been inspired in many instances to do their own facelifts on buildings, creating a lot of energy and a freshness that folks haven’t seen in the area in a few years,” she says. “That speaks to a sense of ownership that businesses and residents are feeling and a true sense of pride that everyone can take in the neighborhood.”
Owens points out that LISC is building upon the groundwork that has been laid over the past twenty years and is looking at all aspects that make a neighborhood great.
“I wish we had started this way ten years ago, from the bottom up, listening to residents, business owners, renters, government officials … across the board,” comments Gay. “It’s logical to get buy-in from the community concerning what is most important.”
Gay says the artwork reaffirms the efforts.
“People are getting a fresh look at their community. Art transforms the look of a blighted building in a tasteful way and helps lift community pride, especially when we have local artists,” he says.
Noted artists Daniel Wynn and Dustin Harewood donated their time and talents to create strikingly different but equally eye-catching murals to support EPIC in East Jacksonville and Springfield, respectively.
Wynn’s mural on a side wall of Avenue Market at 678 A. Philip Randolph Boulevard depicts African-Americans’ contributions to Jacksonville’s history. Harewood’s dramatic sea painting that wraps around two sides of a vacant building at Fifth and Main streets conveys a blend of cultures.
“We get positive feedback about how it really changed the landscape of that corner. That building was an eyesore for many years,” says Reginald Lott, EPIC coordinator. “And on A. Philip Randolph, two buildings were repainted and refaced as a direct result of our initiative.”
Wynn has previously used street art in collaboration with residents to improve Jacksonville’s underserved communities, perhaps most notably a mural he painted with students in 1997 on the side of a corner pharmacy. It remains a landmark in Durkeeville in Northwest Jacksonville.
Accustomed to soliciting suggestions as well as assistance from residents in his artistic endeavors, Wynn says he used their input to create ninety percent of his storytelling EPIC mural, completed in September 2013. Incorporating drawings from people of all ages, he came up with a grid pattern that he transferred to the wall. “We had a lot of walk-ups,” he reports, referring to folks who helped him paint.
Wynn chose the market for his canvas because it had been a longstanding business in need of a facelift in a location visible not only to East Jacksonville’s main business corridor but also to the nearby sports complex.
His seventy- by ten-foot acrylic painting on brick portrays unity, Wynn explains. The church in the center represents religion, a vital part of the African-American community. The work also tells the story of bountiful harvests, community gardens, fishing for food and recreation, oak trees planted by ancestors and generational mentoring–all part of a united community.
“It’s about education, setting goals and glimpsing history–past, present and future,” says Wynn. “The role of the mural is more than aesthetic. It symbolizes the culture of the people and gives people a sense of direction.”
According to William Roberson, owner of the market building that houses a convenience store and carry-out restaurant, Wynn’s mural has had a positive effect on the corridor. “People ask all the time, ‘how can I get someone to paint my ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼wall?’ ” he says.
“I thought it would look beautiful to be driving down Main Street and see a pop of a seascape,” says Dustin Harewood of his colorful painting on the formerly dingy white walls of the building that once housed Jacksonville’s original Brumos Porsche dealership.
A professor of art at Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Kent Campus, Harewood describes his mural–curiously titled Main Street Geishas, which he adopted from a blogger–as a “mash-up of all these things I thought were cool.”
He says he feels privileged to have been asked to participate in EPIC and to be able to “take art to the street to impact the city outside the classroom.”
His acrylic mural consists of Hardie board panels that he painted on campus. EPIC volunteers installed them on freshly painted walls on the main drag of the historic district in December 2012.
The mural starts with the sea, flowing then ebbing, and ends around the corner with elegant geishas weaving the waves. Or the other way around, depending on which direction it is viewed.
Harewood’s wife’s native Japan influenced the geishas, origami boats and mountains, while the geometric patterns give a nod to African aesthetics.
Harewood spent his early years in New York City and attended high school in Barbados after his parents moved the family to their homeland. He accepted a teaching position at FSCJ ten years ago. Last December, he did an exhibit with his wife, Shimizu Yuki. Their show, Shimabito, “island people” in Japanese, highlighted the work of the artists from two islands.
The owner of the Main Street building is pleased with its enhancement. Chris Hionides “was all for it,” reports his son, ￼￼￼Elias, property representative for Petra Management, Inc., which markets the space and has supported other street art projects downtown.
“Our goal is to create life in that block and keep that building there as best we can,” Hionides says. “We work hard to establish relationships with local artists, especially those that can do good work, to benefit all of the city, not just certain demographics.”
The Business Connection
Bill Hoff, president of Springfield Preservation and Restoration (SPAR), points out that the neighborhood’s greatest challenge has been the revitalization of Main Street, which has not kept up with the housing growth. Although SPAR receives frequent inquiries about properties on the business corridor, many are underwater and few are rent-ready.
“So doing something creative at that corner is a very visible statement of positivity,” Hoff says of Harewood’s mural. “While there are some popular restaurants, like Uptown Market, on Main Street, much of it is boarded up, not well maintained and pretty drab. When something bright and bold and lively gets put right in the middle of that drabness, that makes people notice.”
Springfield resident and attorney Christina Parrish agrees that while the mural at Fifth and Main creates interest in the neighborhood, attracting new business remains tough. A member of the executive committee of the Springfield Area Merchants and Business Association (SAMBA,) she serves as chair of the steering committee for Groundwork Jacksonville and is a former chair of the Urban Core Citizens Planning Advisory Committee.
SAMBA is in talks with the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and the City of Jacksonville concerning art projects that involve painting utility boxes, and it applied for a grant through EPIC to install banners on light poles along Main and Eighth streets. “LISC is supporting Groundwork Jacksonville, which hopes to work on some public art projects to help those neighborhoods revitalize their commercial corridors,” Parrish says. “Public art projects that are a form of street art can do great things for a city.”
In East Jacksonville, business leaders are in the
process of incorporating the Eastside Historical Business Association, mainly to improve economic development on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard between First Street and the expressway that separates it from the sports complex. They are counting on EPIC to help identify funding opportunities to be able to implement their plans, according to Ken Covington, community advocate and executive director of the corporation, who attended many of EPIC’s community meetings.
“We are advocating to help existing businesses improve their productivity and to bring in developers to create new businesses to fill in much of the vacant property. We’re trying to bring it back to the time it was a vibrant and busy business corridor,” explains Covington, adding that besides impacting the community’s appearance, Wynn’s mural has increased business for the market.
“We have to deal with the perception of this not being a good area for business and having other negative elements, so changing the visual environment is something positive,” he says. “We have identified four other buildings to do similar murals, engaging youth to help instill personal ownership and pride in our community.”
Darcel Fisher Harris gets it: The East Jacksonville neighborhood activist believes Wynn’s mural instills community pride and inspires change. “When I see beautiful pictures or photos or structures, it makes me think, ‘OK, our community is great,’” she says. “If I see my neighbors paint their house, I’m going to look at mine.”
Article written by Lorrie DeFrank