Phoenix Arts District + Historic Five Points
Conversation with and photograph by Tiffany Manning
As a Jacksonville native, you have watched our city grow and change in major ways and you yourself have been a staple in the Jacksonville art scene since the early 2000s. What would you say is the biggest shift you have witnessed in Jacksonville’s cultural pulse?
I would say the biggest shift in Jacksonville’s cultural pulse is the fact that you have a wave, a juggernaut of assertive, creatively talented youth opening businesses centered around art culture. And people from outside the community are taking notice.
I like to think of you as a purveyor of fun, a crown that you have been wearing for nearly two decades; beginning with the opening of your first bar, aptly named The Art Bar, to the iconic Springfield nightclub called The Pearl, and your current bar in Five Points, Birdies. How does it feel to know you are responsible for playing a major role in shaping Riverside into the hip place it is today. Was that ever a consideration when you opened your first place?
I never had the intention of transforming Five Points. I started my businesses out of necessity. I had a family to care for and I needed to be able to provide for them. I also loved hanging out with social innovators and other artists, so The Art Bar was born. Some of those creatives are still my closest friends and seeing them experience success as Jacksonville’s art scene begins to thrive is pretty damn cool.
I really love your spirit. I feel that you live your life by the guiding principle of whatever you can dream up, you can achieve. How has that shaped the decisions you’ve made as an entrepreneur? Is there anything you would’ve done differently?
There will always be things you can pick apart as something you should’ve done differently when looking back on your life. That’s the nature of hindsight. Being an entrepreneur is hard work, but somehow I must’ve done some things right along the way, since I am still thriving after twenty years.
Whether wandering through your studio or dissecting one of your incredibly intricate artistic creations, it becomes apparent to me that there is a natural quirkiness to everything you do. A quiet confidence with a loud artistic voice that leaves a glittery trail as you make your way through life. When did you first realize you wanted to flex your creative muscles and become an artist and what does being an artist in 2018 mean to you?
I always wanted to be an artist, but when you own your own business, it’s hard to do art for art’s sake. I was always the most attracted to art that made me laugh, so that is what I aim for when I have time to create. As an artist, sometimes we just need to figure out a way to express ourselves creatively. I figured out a way to blend the two by designing artistic moments into my businesses. Whether it was a mosaic on the wall of Birdies, or trees on the dance floor of The Pearl. Out of limitations, we can make magic. I always figure out a way to make it work.
Your most recent endeavor includes a plan to build an art school in the nearly 100,000 square feet of warehouse space you purchased in Historic Springfield. Why an art school?
I mainly wanted an art school because access [to such schools] is limited and expensive. When I was in my early twenties, I really wanted to learn how to work with glass. I wasn’t interested in working towards an art degree, I just wanted to be creative without having to invest the crazy money that art schools require of their students. I wanted to be a maker. I saved my money to buy some supplies and I taught myself. I realized through my own experiences that there needed to be another way for people to learn how to be creative. That is where the idea for the school was born.
What are your other plans for the space and how do you think this plan will shape the future of Jacksonville as a vibrant up and coming cultural destination?
With over 100,000 square feet available within my property alone, there is so much opportunity to create an arts hub in the heart of Springfield. Not to mention the fact that there are so many other warehouses in the area. This could really be a perfect launching point for major growth. I envision the school, artist studios, galleries, restaurants and lofts. Phoenix will just be another beautiful square in the incredibly colorful quilt of Jacksonville.
What do you love about living in Jacksonville?
I am one of very few Jax natives and I love, love, love watching our city grow! So many people from across the country are choosing Jacksonville as their home, which is shining a spotlight on our phenomenal diversity and bringing new perspectives to aid in our growth. Culture is rising to the top as we see a surge of everything from restaurants to shops to galleries. It is more fun now than it has ever been before to call Jacksonville your home.