By Meredith T. Matthews
Spring 2021 saw a corridor of Atlantic Beach become a destination for mural art. A section of Mayport Road, the busy connector between Atlantic Boulevard north to Naval Station Mayport, had already begun to take shape as The Cultural Corridor for months. A large parking lot in front of numerous, unused storage buildings had been playing host to food trucks and pop-up events for nearly a year when something huge took shape—Atlantic Beach mayor Ellen Glasser and ArtRepublic Global’s (AR) CEO Jessica Santiago, entered into an agreement to bring internationally known mural artists into the Klotz Group’s humble space. The transformation was so large that it caught the attention of Forbes in an April article by Chadd Scott devoted entirely to ArtRepublic Atlantic Beach, or ARxAB.
Comparing the now art laden Mayport corridor to Miami’s Wynwood Art District, Scott describes ARxAB and its “enLIGHTen” Art Festival as an almost certain catalyst for future cultural and economic growth in Atlantic Beach. “While isolated murals do exist throughout the wider northeast Florida community, nothing approaching this vision or achieving this scope has taken shape there yet,” writes Scott. “Miami, the Palm Beaches and St. Petersburg are all national destinations for mural art. Perhaps ‘enLIGHTen’ will serve as Jacksonville’s street art ‘big bang.’”
Through its five-year art program, ArtRepublic has brought an incredible amount of mural art to downtown Jacksonville. What makes ARxAB unique is the concentration of murals in one specific spot. Visitors to The Cultural Corridor can view some 20 murals without walking more than one city block. The murals were painted during the weekend-long “enLIGHTen” Art Festival, dubbed “A Time for Illumination,” held by AR from April 22 to 25. True to AR form, the entire event was high in concept and cool factor. Drawing inspiration from the 17th and 18th centuries’ Age of Enlightenment, AR materials state that the festival’s murals, digital installations, speaker series, and events were designed to “usher our community into enlightenment.”
While the murals were being painted on Mayport Road, One Ocean hosted the programming, save nearby events such as a beach clean-up. Much of the focus was on enlightening modern wellness issues, including mental health awareness and wellness as related to art and culture. The featured digital mural by Turkish digital artist Can Büyükberber, a seven-story, immersive art piece called “Primordial Force,” was a temporary spectacle that onlookers in Atlantic Beach will not soon forget.
A parking lot party at the Klotz property brought large numbers to The Cultural Corridor on Saturday of the festival weekend to watch the mural artists paint while enjoying food truck fare and music. Artists enthusiastically interacted with the community, answering questions, and taking photos. Glasser, in attendance at this event and much of the entire festival, summarizes ARxAB in a hugely positive way: “The results for our community can only be described as phenomenal and transformative.”