Lifting Art in Jacksonville

February 15, 2014 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

New galleries open and momentum builds. EUJacksonville shares this piece by Jen Jones, Executive Director of Unity Plaza, on the fall and rise of art galleries during the most recent recession.

It is no secret the Great Recession of 2008-2013 volatilely shook the visual art scene in North Florida and beyond. At times, it felt like God was taking an exuberant Yahtzee turn, and we Jacksonville purveyors of art were the dice bouncing wildly in His plastic cup. Historically and overarchingly speaking, this recent period in the art world has been described by countless experts as mirroring the intense market shifts that occurred in Europe and America during the world-wide upheavals of the late 19th and early to mid-20th centuries.

Then, economic instability, wars and famine ultimately hit the middle class in the gut and quaked the creative sector, whose paintings and sculptures dutifully depicted the new human experience and ushered in the multiple, cutting-edge, culture-shifting, awe-inspiring periods of art history that followed. The public reaction that emerged was the establishment of art galleries and the financial boosting and self-enriching habit of art collecting. Needed now is the same, a drive to collect the ground-breaking new works being made by the immense talent living and creating in our own com¬munity.

Gordon Meggison, Pine Island, Watercolor, 18x24 inches

Recently hardest hit in this sector both nationwide and at home: gallery owners and artists, in a fashion never before seen in Jacksonville. They saw the nutrients creators are fed from, hope and discretionary income, not only trimmed but annihilated during the recession. For example, by 2009 New York City had lost nearly twenty-five major galleries according to the magazine ArtNet. The Associated Press reports that by 2011 Scottsdale, AZ, saw the closure of half of its distinctive galleries and, in Jacksonville, nearly all financially top-heavy galleries, the author’s included, closed up shop and/or restructured their play books.

This period was momentarily discombobulating; artists, galleries, art consultants, interior designers and collectors sought to improve ways of doing business so they could still experience the joys of art while facing less financial pressure. Therefore, as in tens of thousands of other recession-driven examples from across the globe, the Jacksonville visual art industry’s solution to survive and thrive became collaboration. Like the dedicated troops to North Florida culture we are, our vast art scene readdressed its own identity and chose to take on new partners and stronger business strategies that would give a phoenix-like rise to the city’s visual art scene.

Evidenced by both our city’s political and cultural leaders who avidly support Art in Public Places, the art industry is considered a natural resource, an asset for Jacksonville’s future and a visual beacon of our city’s post-recession, national brand. Says Gordon Meggison, Jacksonville mural impresario and creator of major corporate paintings for first coast institutions such as Baptist Beaches Medical Center, “The recent shakeout has shown the wheat from the chaff, and yet we are still very much alive and excited as a community about what we can visually contribute to this emerging city.”

As existing galleries streamlined their business models, they also upped their experiential programming for clients, such as increased opportunities to meet our great artists and more artist-led teaching events. These connecting and nurturing moments with the buying public and a steady-eddy approach to business allowed some of the first coast’s finest galleries to stay alive. For example, Stellers in Ponte Vedra weathered the maelstrom with grace. Gallery owner Hillary Tuttle says, “In the recent past we have seen collectors taking their time...their decisions have been thoughtful, well-informed and deliberate. As the housing market rebounds, we have also felt positive momentum in the regional art scene. If emotionally moved to buy a specific work of art, many of our clientele are inclined to collect regard¬less of the financial season.”

New galleries are also opening in Jacksonville. A favorite of the corporate and interior design worlds is Heather Sams’ HAS Art Solutions, located outside San Marco and in physical and business collabora¬tion with long-time furnishings purveyor, Hugo’s. Sams has worked in every part of the art industry. With a degree in fine art from Arizona State University and a Masters in Business Administration from S.M.U. in Dallas, TX, Heather is herself a creator as well as a veteran of both the wholesale and retail corporate art sales. She most enjoys utilizing full-time artists’ pieces in her role as art consultant. Sams carefully selects or commissions sculptural, painting, photography and print artworks to curate the look and articulate the mission of spaces in which people work, live and play. She thoughtfully assists the individ¬ual collector, the corporate or hospitality facility or elder-care and hospital environ¬ments.

Sams says, “I’m completely optimistic after over twenty-five years in this industry and witnessing the changes and tribulations from west to east coast and up to down the nation. Jacksonville is my home and place we will invest because it has the raw talent and creativity required to be a nationally recognized, thriving art community. Our artists are clearly inspired and extremely impressive. Very importantly, we as a community of consum¬ers and business leaders need to value and pay for the incredible art created here, and take the responsibility to encourage art col¬lecting. The financial investment in this im¬portant local market is secure. I am thrilled to help collectors find the right artwork and help them demonstrate actively what the arts bring to our businesses and our lives.”

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