Jacksonville Arts Initiative

October 19, 2016 3 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article



Article from EU Jacksonville. Written by local artist Sherry J. Hill.

Imagine local artists having a liaison to the Mayor’s Office. Imagine art being used to fight blight and crime. Imagine local artists working and being paid well for their time and creativity. Imagine our city being a whole lot more beautiful. This is a dream that many local artists ponder while working “regular” jobs to pay bills. We have evolved to understand that art is an important component to creating a city with a real pulse. Many local artists are proud to point out that the best examples of our recent cultural progress, especially in our Downtown revitalization efforts, have all been carried on the backs and wallets of local creatives. Art Walk, Riverside Arts Market, and One Spark are a few names that get mentioned. The case has been well made for the value and sense of place that public art brings to a city. The positive economic impact from our Cultural Council’s expenditure to support nonprofits and cultural institutions of just under 2.4 million, or .24% of the total city budget, is over 77 million dollars. Under the direction of Tony Allegretti, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville has stepped up in recent years to move Jacksonville on par with other cities when it comes to displaying public art. But now that new funding has been made available, local artists feel locked out of many of the high paying opportunities.

Local artist Chip Southworth has been especially active and has even taken drastic measures to move public, street-style art forward. He was arrested for embellishing utility boxes with art. Yes, arrested for vandalism. Search the internet for this full story. It’s pretty crazy that he did not have a working connection to COJ government to try to bring this project to Jacksonville. Other cities welcome people with this type of passion. After the struggle was said and done, Jacksonville became a city like many others and added a project that included the adornment of utility boxes to their public arts projects. A win for local artists, you might think. And this is where it gets sticky, and people got mad. And I mean really mad.


Chip Southworth

Jacksonville Arts Initiative’s name came from a project started by Gray Solomon, the Curator of the Gallery held in the former Haydon Burns Library during the early days of Art Walk many years before its renovation. Its recent reincarnation was fueled by a call-to-artists for the Downtown Investment Authority’s Urban Arts Project. Art Downtown sounds great, right? When the call shut the majority of local artists out of hundreds of thousands of dollars that were being spent by our city for new art, local artists mobilized and made their voices known. For those outside of the art world, a call is basically a request for artists to show qualifications and submit their interest in hopes of winning an opportunity to be paid to create something awesome.

Led by the critical voice of Chip Southworth, who created the awareness and helped craft the call after his activism was recognized, Tammy McKinley the curator of the Union Galleries stepped up with a location to hold a meeting. Myself (Sherry J Hill, a local emerging sculptor), Jim Smith, a pillar of the arts community, along with a diverse group of artists were quick to assemble and begin gathering ideas to create a united front. When asked what made Jim Smith get involved in the Jax Arts Initiative his response was “I felt that local artists were underserved here in town.” Jim Smith is one of the lucky few that makes a living using his talent by teaching art and by working on commissioned projects such as the new mural at the downtown library. When I asked what he hopes the Jacksonville Arts Initiative will accomplish, he said he hopes “inroads to public art can be made. Right now there are a lot of hurdles for less-funded local artists to be shown. The goal is to have artists making a living from selling their art.”

Tammy McKinley when asked why she got involved stated: “I offered The Union Art Studios and Gallery to host the first JAI meeting because we needed enough room to host over 100 local artists that expressed interest in having a voice in the Art in Public Places call for artists and [to] discuss other ways we can find positive solutions to grow Jacksonville’s art community.”

The issue that no one wants to touch is that local artists are at a disadvantage because they face prejudice. They have also had fewer opportunities to create large-scale works. Good art is expensive. To be successful you have to be already successful. Opportunities to show publicly have just started to emerge for Jacksonville artists.

When asked about national versus local art Southworth says, “Well, there are huge concentrations of great and successful artists in NYC and So Cal; national art is fine as long as 15 to 20% is local… There hasn’t been but one truly local project in four years. That’s unacceptable!” The current Art in Public Places program is supposed to allow 15% for local art. An artist that didn’t want to give their name said, “When you have so few projects, 15% of one statue or one mural doesn’t make sense.” The artists weren’t saying all art should be local; they were saying there needs to balance. They just want a fair shot at these huge opportunities.

The issue that no one wants to touch is that local artists are at a disadvantage because they face prejudice. They have also had fewer opportunities to create large-scale works. Good art is expensive. To be successful you have to already be successful. Opportunities to show publicly have just started to emerge for Jacksonville artists.

“National art is fine as long as 15 to 20% is local… There hasn’t been but one truly local project in four years. That’s unacceptable!”

When asked about national versus local art Southworth says, “Well, there are huge concentrations of great and successful artists in NYC and So Cal; national art is fine as long as 15 to 20% is local… There hasn’t been but one truly local project in four years. That’s unacceptable!” The current Art in Public Places program is supposed to allow 15% for local art. An artist that didn’t want to give their name said, “When you have so few projects, 15% of one statue or one mural doesn’t make sense.” The artists weren’t saying all art should be local; they were saying there needs to balance. They just want a fair shot at these huge opportunities.


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