“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 – warned against a nearly impossible timeline: the event team was 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, they pressed on.
November 11 marks the inaugural launch of Art (Re)Public, the first international mural and art expo in Jacksonville featuring 15 world-renowned muralists, including Case McClaim, Felipe Pantone, Cyrcle, INO and Reka. With a nod to the Jacksonville’s Golden Age, the event 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 1900’s, the city was named the ‘Winter Film Capital of the World’, attracting New York’s actors, directors and artists of all eccentricities to its shores. In the same decade, despite the racial segregation that defined the era (or perhaps because of it), a thriving music scene emerged in the neighborhood now known as LaVilla, 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. Historic buildings were 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 22 year tenure. The city’s regressive stance on 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 is a Marine with a broken leg.
Where there is nothing, everything is possible.
Art (Re)Public is tapping into this free floating angst, channeling collective frustration into creative expression. “Where there is nothing, everything is possible,” Jessica says. She has every reason to feel optimistic. She just secured the 14th wall, the Bay Street Parking Garage.
“I can’t help but see these 14 blank walls as symbolic. These massive canvasses have been sitting bare for decades, begging to be brought to life. That’s Jacksonville. We’re a city with nothing but potential.“
Jessica’s deep conviction about the transformative power art can have on a city comes from her familiarity with Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, a warehouse district-turned-art mecca that is arguably one of the most important creative communities in the world.
But it wasn’t always so. Similar to parts of Jacksonville, the Wynwood neighborhood was rundown until a group of visionary developers with powerful connections in the art world turned abandoned crackhouses into canvasses. Almost overnight, the area was revitalized into an international street art museum, pulling artists from New York, Los Angeles, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Belgium, Mexico City, San Francisco and Portugal. Within just a few years, Wynwood experienced an unprecedented spike in property value and new business development. Today, it’s a global destination.
Wynwood may be a unicorn, but there’s a lesson in it for progressive developers, businesses and entrepreneurs in Jacksonville: bring interesting art into a project, and interesting people will want to be there. This is the premise upon which Art (Re)Public is built.
The critical x-factor that enabled Art (Re)Public to secure top tier sponsorships and the most prominent walls was Jessica’s access to world-class muralists. Seeking only private investment allowed her to maintain complete curatorial control. Six months after the first board meeting, the 11-person executive team had rallied support from passionate local artists, small business owners, civic leaders, large corporations and global brands, including 14 privately owned walls and luxury sponsorships from Pilot Pen, Estée Lauder, and Tiffany & Co. The defining moment for Art (Re)Public was August 25th when the organization secured Preston Haskell, Jacksonville’s patron saint of the arts, as Title Sponsor.
Welcome to the Creative In(ter)vention
Art (Re)Public is set to invade Jacksonville’s urban core on 11/11. Inspired by city’s rich history, and against the backdrop of its well-preserved architecture, the curatorial theme for Art (Re)Public’s inaugural year is, aptly, “Modern City of Dreams”.
Art (Re)Public will showcase traffic-stopping murals by local and internationally renowned artists who will transform brick and plaster into monumental canvasses, punctuating the city’s artistic landscape with messages of unity, freedom and hope. The weekend will be full of other activities, including local performance art and fashion, regional culinary experiences, a lecture series at MOCA, and free public events. Artists from around the world will arrive in Jacksonville the first of November. For a week leading up to the event, locals can observe art, and history, in the making.
For more information about Art (Re)Public, event lineup, maps for the self-guided mural tours and to buy tickets to evening events, visit: www.artrepublicjax.org.