EU Jacksonville writer Liza Mitchell writes about the artist/designer Jen Jones and her role in the redevelopment of Brooklyn.
She is not just sitting around crowing about her good fortune when there is work to be done. Jones is rolling up her sleeves and getting dirty. It takes a lot of work to shape an idea into a dream. “Right now, my position is chock-full of foundation setting responsibilities. I need to design the essential programming so its infrastructure needs are incorporated into the design of the Plaza, and start awareness-raising and not just from a donor perspective,” she says. “It is my responsibility to get in- side citizens’ minds and hearts to gain an honest understanding of what this project should become, long-term, in order to represent the best of Jacksonville, as well as infuse the programming needed to bring home what’s been missing here. I am currently meeting with community leaders, thought leaders, educators and artists to get everyone excited and bring a ‘whole’ concept to fruition.”
Jones is so genuinely excited about the future of Unity Plaza that it’s nearly impossible not to share in her enthusiasm. Jones is already hard at work lining up experts to contribute their knowledge to every single niche of the campus from lighting to landscape. Musicians and sound engineers are assisting in the design of the amphitheater to enhance the quality of the acoustics.
“We want to make sure the amphitheater is very thoughtful and prepared, so we not only embrace great talent but give them a home they enjoy being in,” she says. “It’s such a phenomenally logistical location to create a cultural gem. We intend to have very special, high-end programming that is globally known with artists who enjoy an intimate environment. We designed the park in such a way that we can have ticketed events to help underwrite some of the costs of the plaza, but we can also have free events, too.”
Unity Plaza is slated for a July 4th opening, just in time for Independence Day festivities. Other seasonal events will feature the Easter Bunny, St. Patrick’s Day celebration and a stunning Christmas display with a “colossal Christmas tree” and plans to turn the lake into an ice skating rink for two weeks in December. Movies will be screened during a “Dive-In Movie Night.” Performances will include international artists, as well as local productions by the Douglas Anderson School for the Arts, the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind and the University of North Florida.
The design team is taking extra care to ensure that the outside matches the inside in terms of the “positive juju,” says Jones. An unsightly retention pond was reconfigured to reclaim all of the storm- water runoff in the entire Brooklyn neighborhood and will also cleanse the water before it’s redeposited into the St. Johns River. The lake will also serve as a focal point to patrons in the amphitheater’s terrace seating, built on a natural, sloping grade directly into the lush landscape--a far cry from the dry earth and broken glass that has served as the property’s calling card for the last few decades as opportunities for development passed by.
In the lake’s center will be a 40-foot, art deco, bronze sculpture of a woman in the negative, covered in clear glass and lit from beneath. Water will flow through the sculpture, offering an unobstructed view of the St. Johns River. On the outer banks of the lake, two 16-feet bronze figures will be depicted diving in and out of the water, complementing the central fountain as well as the existing sculpture, “Winged Vision,” in Memorial Park.
“It’s very important for all of us involved that this be a space for transformation. And that trans- formation will come in the guise of performing and visual arts. It will also come in the guise of health and wellness and leadership conferences, as well as supporting other non-profits to give them a home,” Jones says. “This will be a space for everyone from all walks of life. It takes a village to build a dream--and a thoughtful and successful public-private partnership."
Article by Liza Mitchell
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