Babble Magazine was an early 90s publication published by Stephen Dare and Stephen Lee Ashby that covered the urban culture of the era. This issue of Babble has the story of the early development of Five Points as an alternative district, as well as some coverage of the nightclubs and arts of the era. Buckle in for a spicy ride through the passsions of the times.
Babble was one of my favorite projects from the era, as the technology for creating publications had begun to progress a bit. Enough that we could do our own separations and half screens for the printer, which was still an offset press without any digital capability.
This issue came right after the beginning of Five Points as an alternative district, and it marks the first time that I wrote about 'clustering', 'niching', or small business development of a neighborhood.
The publication was a full size tabloid, so the pages have been shrunk a little here, which can make the typeface a little small. If you click on the image twice though, you can enlarge the page to full size and have a much better time of reading it.
One of the things that really sticks out to me about this era is that it describes the environment in Jville after the disastrous outcomes of the Culture Wars, which was a national phenomenon that had begun in earnest at the end of the 1980s. Public funding of the arts was slashed across the board in the US, and here in Jacksonville, the boards of the institutions (like public broadcasting and the Jacksonville Art Museum) were consumed with disastrous takeover attempts between rival factions of conservative vs. liberal funders.
The most contemporary theater group in the city---Jacksonville Actor's Theatre--- had closed its doors, the wildly successful leadership of Bruce Dempsey that had brought the tiny Jacksonville Art Museum to national prominence had been imploded, PBS saw the ouster of one of its local founders, Fred Rebman and the consequent struggle for mastery that resulted in the end of the legendary radio program: "The Metro" by Landon Walker.
Four of the city councilmen introduced an ordinance to end all public funding of the arts on a local level at the same time that the National Endowment of the Arts was significantly reduced, leading to cutbacks in artist grants across the country.
In the resulting vacuum, you can see how the artists and creative types in the city had to respond as the older generations battled it out over ideology. By creating street spaces, and lo fi outlets to call their own. This was the beginning of the City of Expression, a rebellious young group of artists who have since become institutions on their own right. No gallery space, no funding, no grants, no institutional support. They began organizing angry and bellicose outlets in the very streets of riverside. Tom Hager, Lee Harvey, and many other artists of the era had to find homes in nightclubs and restaurants as a result of the closure of public spaces and funding which would serve them.
The era certainly wasn't without its controversies, and I was certainly right in the middle of them.
As a result of so many closed doors, it is no accident that Five Points became ground zero for street art, and the graffiti artists of the era were born in the punk rock permissiveness of the little strip of shops.
At the same time a new generation of musicians, trained by southern rock's masters and weaned in the alternative environments of Einstein a go go and Park and King brought a pretty passionate version of grunge rock to the neighborhood. Likewise, Jacksonville's poetry scene was reborn in Five Points. I still remember talking to a fourteen year old Al Letson about the similarities of Rap music and Poetry.
Five points was also the very last hurrah of the Jacksonville Actor's Theatre, as Valery Anthony, KC Stetson and Talmadge Lowe decided to go DIY and produced the last production of the group there: Dario Fo's 'Danny and the Deep Blue Sea'. After that most of the members of the serious acting community abandoned Jville to a decade of musical theatre and plays intended for the 50 year old plus audiences.
One of the things I find the most interesting about this 21 year old publication is that the sole appearance of RAP in the story comes in the form of its sitting representative on the Five Points Merchant's association: Jerry Jones. Predictably perhaps, it was his role to try and prevent the little area from being filled up with the funky bohemians who made it what it is today.
You might notice in the article that several times the words are blacked out. This is because it refers to relationships that reveal the people being discussed as either gay or lesbian. Even though Five Points was literally the first gay culture friendly neighborhood in the city, 'outing' people was still tabu, and Stephen Lee Ashby prevailed (at the last minute) upon us to blot out references which might betray sexual orientation.
Anyways, there is a lot of fun stuff in this old issue, hope you enjoy!
Cafe on the Square, the iconic building in San Marco.
"The Hidden City". Monthly Letter from the Editor.
"What I did on my summer vacation...." Five Points.
The beginning of the Five Points Narrative.
NEXT PAGE: The Story of Five Points.