The Conversation: Jessica Santiago

Ceo | Founder, ArtRepublic

Photograph by George Georgallis

What inspired Jacksonville’s first ArtRepublic initiative? 

Prior to starting ArtRepublic’s first initiative, I was an art dealer working primarily on corporate collections. I was working outside of the city for the most part and had been contemplating whether or not I could build the scale of the career I wanted in my hometown. In October 2015, I was inspired by a presentation by Mike Balanky on the concept of urban development built around a healthy body, mind, and spirit. 

I followed up with Mike and shared my ideas about how developers could benefit from on-site art directors who could help mold not only the permanent collection of the development, but ongoing programming that would continue to give identity, soul, and engagement to their projects. With Mike’s vote of confidence, I developed the concept for ArtRepublic. I knew if I wanted to stay at home and build my dream, I was going to have to do a lot more than just sell art; I needed to help build the infrastructure of a thriving cultural city. 

I knew that people like Mike and many others that I met were going to help us evolve, and I could either move to another city and plug into what was already defined or I could play a role in defining the trajectory of the cultural scene in Jacksonville. I considered it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and decided then that I was going to shoot for the biggest visions I could to make Jacksonville a cultural destination. 

How do you stay in touch with the global art scene? 

Nothing keeps me more connected than my relationships with artists around the world. Artists are my greatest resource for new inspiration, fresh ideas, and staying connected to culture. Staying astute as to what’s happening in the global art industry is a day-to-day priority for me. Over the years, I’ve made it a point to attend art fairs, major museum exhibition openings, and to be an avid reader of industry publications. Outside of 2020, I have been going to Miami and New York every month for years to see shows, meet artists, and stay connected. This connection to artists, their perspectives, and the pulse of global culture is the greatest gift of my career. 

What is it about art that you’re most drawn to, personally? 

I am most drawn to art because of its ability to alter perspectives. My background before entering the art industry was in real estate and finance. I lived in an analytical world with a very narrow perspective compared to the world I live in now. I made the decision to go into the art industry shortly after being diagnosed with cancer and being forced to search for new perspectives to find balance and meaning in my life.

One of the first things I told myself was that I was going to give myself the ability to heal spiritually and mentally and that I would do all the things I said I didn’t have the time to do—walk on the beach, meditate, and go to museums. I began studying philosophers and taking deeper dives into the minds of artists. I became fascinated with how different the world can be through the eyes of an artist.  

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Author: Arbus

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