The Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville: Vital to the Survival of the Arts During the Pandemic

JaXoScope by Shasti O’Leary Soudant

A conversation with Cultural Council Executive Director Joy Young

What is the role of the Cultural Council to engage and bring awareness? 

As Jacksonville’s local arts agency, the Cultural Council is committed to investing in the arts and culture in the region. One way that we invest in our community is by using a variety of communication vehicles—social media, newsletters, television media, and our website—to spread the word about the incredible creativity that exists here. Creativity is happening around us every day and the Cultural Council is doing our part to ensure that the community knows that artists are producing new work, they are interpreting and documenting these turbulent times through thought-provoking work, and they are entertaining us. Our social media posts often give first-hand accounts about what is happening in our community. Our calendar of events links audiences to our community’s many long-standing arts organizations; in other words, we bring awareness by amplifying the public engagement efforts of the arts and cultural industries of our community.

Our public art program includes a significant public engagement process so that the art that we see in public spaces is inclusive and happens with the involvement of people who represent communities. We believe that public art is done with versus for community. And, we have a special obligation to engage local artists in producing public art.

Not only is our collective culture expressed in art forms, our most significant social crises are documented through the arts. Right now, the Cultural Council’s financial investments in artists and arts organizations make possible the creation or presentation of artworks for future generations to know more about who and what we were as a community. This is a serious responsibility because as a small nonprofit that operates in partnership with the City of Jacksonville, we are stewards of public dollars.

Prior to COVID-19 the arts and cultural industries contributed $85 million in economic returns to our community. Since March 2020, the arts and culture industry in Northeast Florida has experienced over five million dollars in economic losses. The Cultural Council has advocated to the community to donate to the museums, galleries, theaters, music schools, and other creative economy-related businesses that have been affected by this unprecedented event. The Fund for Arts and Culture and the Artist Relief Fund were the ways we galvanized community engagement. Through local business partners such as Void Magazine and Strata Mfg., as well as donations from individuals and fellow artists donations, we were able to gift over 40 micro grants to help Duval County artists pay their bills during a difficult time. What really impacted us during the campaign were other artists, such as Nicole Holderbaum, who wanted to join in by donating their artwork and help their fellow artists.

The Unbridled Joy of Frolicking Fish by Byron Caplan, Jacksonville. Skyway staircase at the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center of JTA — printed images on aluminum composite sheets. Printed and routed by Spring Moon Printers in St. Augustine. Installed by General Sign Services, Jacksonville. Jennifer Jones Murray, project manager.

As the quarantine lifted and people were able to get back to work and some museums and theaters began to open, our focus shifted. We realized that the best way to help the individual artists as well as the arts and culture organizations was to bring awareness and get the community excited to engage and support the arts once again in Jacksonville.

Talk about the projects that the Cultural Council is working on to bring the arts back to people’s attention as we begin, hopefully, to emerge out of lockdown. 

During social distancing, the Cultural Council continued to work on public art projects that paid artists for their serves. Our most visible work can be seen at the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center (JRTC) in the LaVilla section of Jacksonville. Throughout the JRTC, the public can view custom wall murals illustrating the history of regional transportation in Jacksonville that highlights African American achievement. A rotating collection of art work from over 60 of Northeast Florida’s most innovative and talented artists can be found in here.

The JRTC describes these art installations as a way to “create a sense of place and a living monument to the historic and often forgotten impact this neighborhood has had on Jacksonville and the nation, including the early civil rights movement, transportation and logistics, the influence of jazz music and African-American culture”. This is a must-see visual art installation located in a building that is innovatively designed.

The Cultural Council serves as the City of Jacksonville’s regranting agency. We take seriously our partnership with the city and we know that the arts and cultural organizations receiving this funding have programs and services that people can and should engage in as we emerge out of lockdown. During the lockdown, the Cultural Council created space for arts leaders to connect with one another. We invited local arts leaders to have regular

Emergence by Laura Haddad and Thomas Drugan, Seattle. Water Street Parking Garage — mural, sculpture and LED computer controlled lighting. Sponsor: DIA with additional support by JEA. Hilda Ettedgui, project manager.

conversations with us about how we can help to get the right messaging out to the public. Messaging continues to be a balancing act because it’s important to be ever mindful of how we position the arts as a social service during an international health and economic crises. We know that during a time when government has so many serious issues to address, our message is that the arts can be a part of helping address issues. In fact, arts and culture are good for economic development, building communities, education, and wellness.

Through our regular meetings with the organizations we developed the idea for a public service announcement type of video, showcasing the organizations in a one minute montage of dance, art, theater, history, and discovery, with the message that online or in person, the arts and culture organizations of Jacksonville are here for you, before, during, and after this pandemic.

In March we released the Greater Jacksonville Arts Directory, a searchable online listing of artists and arts organizations of all disciplines. As the directory grows, our hope is that it will become a great resource for artists to be found and discovered and that those searching for classes, instruction, an artist to commission a piece for them, or to just get connected to what’s going on in the region will be able to find what they are looking for.

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