If someone mentions to you that Jacksonville doesn't have an arts scene, don't believe the hype. Today, Metro Jacksonville takes a look inside Riverside's popular CoRK Arts District.
CoRK's network of warehouses date back to the 1920s, as businesses such as the Atlantic Match Company, Peter Ballantine & Sons, Francis H. Leggett & Company, Schell-Sasse, and Dixon Powdermaker established a presence on the edge of Riverside. The warehouse district employed thousands of residents to manufacture and distribute a variety of products, including matchbooks, beer, wholesale groceries, millwork, and furniture.
As time has progressed and technological advances have been made, this industrial complex, once characterized by buildings that lined the street, has found itself full of structures, obsolete for the major industrial needs of yesteryear. Viewed by most as being nondescript and of little value, many similar buildings have been demolished in and around downtown in favor of a network of urban renewal revitalization dreams that have failed to materialize for a number of reasons. The devastating negative impact of the wholesale elimination of cheap available building stock is the reduction of non-subsidized redevelopment opportunities centered around the clustering of complementing uses within a compact setting (CCC).
CCC is a subliminal key to successful urban revitalization by locating people, activities (like special events or outdoor dining), and uses (like restaurant or bars) together in close proximity, allowing them to feed off one another, which in turn stimulates more growth and activity.
The affordable, open, raw, and available space downtown lacked was this aging industrial district's prime amenity: open space. With this in mind, developer Mac Easton and artist Dolf James put together space with functionality: the building where Henry Kramer originally manufactured art-inspired matchbooks in 1926 was re-positioned into a network of art studios and gallery space.
Located at the corner of Rosselle and King Streets, the acronym "CoRK" became a natural fit for Easton's project. Furthermore, the economic attraction of CoRK was clearly identified by artist Jerry Cornwell in a 2011 Metro Jacksonville forum conversation on the complex,
"Some of the smaller studios go for as little as $250. The larger ones top out at like $750. And they are large. Remember, if you're intimidated by the price, you can share with others. Smaller spaces are about 300 sq ft. Larger ones around 1,000 to 1,200 sq ft. That's a nice size. One thing that's unprecedented is the utilities furnished, HVAC air conditioning year round. And the prices are just unbelievable!"
Today, the warehouse district houses 57 artists working in 46 studios, in a network of buildings lining King and Rosselle Streets. Exceeding original expectations that artists would not be interested in what Easton's project, artists benefit from CoRK's nearly 100,000 square feet, working in close-knit collaboration with a wide range of influences and inspiration. Even the rail siding that once shipped beer for Peter Ballantine & Sons and Pepsi products for an adjacent warehouse that was a 1930s bottling works, has been put to use as an outdoor venue known as the CoRKYard. In addition, the former Schell-Sasse/Dixon Powdermaker Furniture complex, anchored by Bold City Brewery across the street, includes new venues of its own, CoRK South and the Clay & Canvas Studio.
With a 12,000 square-foot warehouse building that once stored tea leaves for Francis H. Leggett & Company, tentative plans include additional artist studios and gallery space, a live music venue, and a performance art space. On Saturday, April 27, 2013, Metro Jacksonville took advantage of CoRK's Open Studios Day to provide our followers with an inside look of this truly inspiring urban core arts center. We invite you to take a look.