Jacksonville’s Creative In(ter)vention
“It’s too ambitious.”
“It’s too ambitious.” In January 2016, when the first whispers about Art (Re)Public could be overheard from a nearby table at Bold Bean, this was the general consensus. While nearly everyone loved the idea, many said it couldn’t be done. It was too ambitious. There wasn’t enough time.
Indeed, the vision was audacious, and a bit unsettling, particularly for seasoned city leaders who admittedly felt jaded from years of arts advocacy amid political rhetoric and bureaucratic red tape. Even Art (Re)Public’s earliest adopters – a small but mobilizing group of progressive entrepreneurs, visionary developers and art influencers – were concerned about the nearly impossible timeline: they were determined to mount this megaproject in November 2016.
But Art (Re)Public, the brainchild of entrepreneur-turned-art dealer, Jessica Santiago, seemed to have a spirit all its own. Embracing the enthusiasm felt by few over the doubt shared by many, the group pressed on.
November 11 marks the launch of Art (Re)Public, the first international mural and art expo in
Jacksonville featuring fifteen world-renowned muralists, including Case MaClaim, Felipe Pantone, Cyrcle, INO and Reka. With a nod to Jacksonville’s Golden Age, Art (Re)Public aims to spark a rebirth of art and entertainment, defining Downtown as a nationally recognized arts district and catalyzing economic development in the urban core.
A City Of Dreams, Deferred
The idea has roots. Jacksonville was once revered as one of the first and finest art and culture capitals in the country. In the early 1900s, the city was named the “Winter Film Capital of the World,” attracting New York’s actors, directors and artists of all eccentricities. In the same decade, despite the racial segregation that defined the era (or perhaps because of it), a thriving music scene emerged in the LaVilla neighborhood, drawing nationally renowned jazz musicians and giving rise to celebrated performance venues that are still standing today. Called the “Harlem of the South,” Downtown Jacksonville was a hotbed for multi-cultural entertainment.
Around 1960, social and economic factors led to the area’s decline, turning the once vibrant neighborhood into a flashpoint for crime. Some historic buildings were eventually reduced to dilapidated crackhouses, and prostitution was rampant. Jacksonville’s Golden Age was sullied beyond recognition.
Despite great effort by many over the last half century, Jacksonville has yet to recapture the electricity and cultural diversity of its artistic heritage. If the creative community is feeling
restless, they’re well within their right. This year alone, the “Bold City” lost some of its strength with the resignation of Marcelle Polednik from the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, followed by the unexpected departure of Hope McMath from The Cummer Museum after her twenty-two-year tenure. The city’s regressive stance on an HRO policy doesn’t exactly create a welcoming environment for a diverse and dynamic arts scene. If the health of a city is measured by its arts, Jacksonville has a broken leg.
Article written by Rachel Roberts