Are We in the Midst of a Jacksonville Great Awakening?

August 23, 2014 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Northeast Florida is gaining momentum in creating a culture that embraces ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Is this Jacksonville's "Great Awakening"? Op-Ed by Thony Aiuppy.

White Noise:Painting by Thony Aiuppy

Over the last decade it seems that Jacksonville has been enveloped in a cultural boom. While the economic slump seemed to prevail during the time known as the Second Great Recession, Northeast Florida has been gaining momentum in creating a culture that embraces ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Take for instance the thriving establishments in Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood: Bold City Brewery, Intuition Aleworks, and Bold Bean Coffee. Before the recession, these staples were nonexistent entities. The CoRK Arts District, too, was also an unforeseeable treasure. These have become mainstays that came about due to entrepreneurs and investors seeing a need to infuse daily life with cultural vibrancy.

Additionally, with a push to see downtown Jacksonville as a destination for the arts and culture, significant effort has been made to put this area of town on people’s radar as a place worth visiting. One of the biggest success stories is the One Spark festival. This festival strives to bring art, music, technology, engineering and all things creative into focus over the course of a week for the past two years, connecting local and national talent to local businesses downtown as venues for ideas and products to be shared. Art Walk, too, has had a long lasting impact over the last decade.  Joy Leverette’s Looking Lab project took off this year with great success, turning empty storefronts into beautify exhibitions, enabling passerby’s the opportunity to see what can happen when downtown focuses on producing culturally enticing environments in that part of the city.

Receiver: Painting by Thony Aiuppy

With the success of entities such as One Spark, CoRK, and the Riverside Arts Market, some are of the idea that Jacksonville has hit a renewed cultural renaissance. For me, it is hard to see how our city has realized the ramifications of such a renaissance. However, I can definitely gauge how the city has been swept up into a great awakening. Never before have I seen such vibrancy to see things happen in the arts since I moved here nearly two decades ago. While Jacksonville is not the same city as it was twenty, or God forbid fifty, years ago, the city has a long road ahead of itself to achieve the full implications of a city that has experience the type of revival that is possible.

One Spark is by no means the standard that we should judge all future success concerning the fruition of obtaining a culture that is rich and saturated in the arts; it is a product of potential turned into focused energy that equips people to get things done. Additionally, One Spark has set a benchmark in changing some attitudes of the dilemma of downtown. It assuaged the stereotype that downtown Jacksonville is a visual eyesore with no hope of changing; a place full of bums, ocular plight, and to be avoided after work hours. It will be exciting to see how their new offices in the Barnett Bank building will add to this recent sea change.

Individually and collectively, we have to realize our ability to change things. One Spark and CoRK are reminders of this. I believe that One Spark awakened people to the opportunities that are to be had by those who want to take them and risk failure to see great things happen here in this town. While it is a marker of a turning point for us as a city, it is not a vision yet fully realized. There is much to be done.

Painting by Thony Aiuppy
For some, the next step would be to put your money where your mouth is and get involved in the local economy, becoming a patron, and participating in the things are available. Think back to those places where you eat, drink, and experience the city. Every financial transaction is a vote cast for one thing over another. For others, it is to make your voice known to you council person and get involved through volunteering and problem solving at institutions like Downtown Vision and the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville.

Others still, should actually be risk takers and do something that nobody’s done yet. Bridge Eight, a local literary magazine, comes to mind. A friend of mine had a desire to fill this particular need and it will be interesting where the magazine and its creative writers will go in the future.

Gone are days of blaming others for why change hasn’t happened at a faster rate. The moral police are not out to rob this city of the freedom it has to create a more engaging city. As an individual or collaborative body, it is important to gauge your current level of involvement and consider what your contribution is doing regarding the state of our cultural engagement. Blame-shifting and denial only retards the flame that can burn brightly as our city figures out who she wants to be and I believe that she wants to be a beacon, a cultural destination on the national map when it comes to viewing exhibitions, enjoying fine cuisine, or experiencing music.

Perhaps the reason that Jacksonville hasn’t encountered a renaissance yet is because “you” haven’t participated yet in what’s happening. It may be that Jacksonville hasn’t had a renaissance yet is because “you” haven’t sought out ways to make things happen with the problems you see. Cultural revival in our city hasn’t happened yet is because we haven’t been more vocal to our city council that we need and demand things to be different. Instead of revitalizing downtown, we allow developers to create new havens outside of the core neighborhoods for shopping in other parts of our city, out of convenience and slothfulness. It takes a lot of hard work, ingenuity, and hunger to make things the way that we want them and I am not alone in wanting a more culturally vibrant place to live.

We are prone to complain that our lives are boring and that this town is going to waste. However, there are progenitors hard at work, risking so much to see this place see some much needed fruit; so don’t be afraid to fail. It will be a sad day if our city never fully realized its capacity to thrive, to truly enter a cultural renaissance because we don’t believe that change can really happen in the city we claim to love. If you loved it, you’d be more apt to do something about it.

Thony Aiuppy received a BFA in Painting/Drawing at the University of North Florida in 2010 and an MFA degree in Painting at Savannah College of Art and Design in 2013. He is a practicing visual artist and art educator as well as a contributing writer for the blog Metro Jacksonville. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida.

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