by Emily Moody
Jim Draper is a household name for many Jacksonvillians, but there is so much more behind this modest artist. I wanted this story to focus on not just a painter of bold and colorful Florida landscapes, but an influential citizen in our community. He has not only been a mentor, a teacher, an inspirer, a friend, a pioneer and promoter for this city for 15 years, but, in keeping with his love of nature, he is also a mercenary for our river (he’s a board member for the St. Johns Riverkeeper). This man does, indeed, wear many hats. 
Before formally meeting Jim, I was familiar with his work and the name behind it. Although both active in the arts and culture of Jacksonville, surprisingly, Jim and I did not cross paths until the beginning of this year, when he was the featured artist at a grand opening event.  Regardless, I am lucky to know him now. 
Jim is a man after my own heart, or maybe I, a woman after his. Some come to Jacksonville, only to pack up and leave a few years later, filled with frustrations of the lack of support from the community. Yet, Jacksonville has an eerie way of practically hypnotizing some special residents’ hearts and entangling those deeper into the city. You always hear people say, “Well Jacksonville COULD be this…” but the same people spouting those words just sit back like a deer in headlights, waiting for someone to take the lead. Jim is one of those leaders.  
A Little History
Originally from Mississippi, the son of a clothier,  Jim has been all over the arts scene map since the early 90s. In 1994 he really dove into Jacksonville’s community of artists, as a professor at FCCJ, then Flagler and UNF. After teaching figure drawing classes at the Cummer, that further segued his involvement in the arts community.  
  A few years after appearing on the scene, Jim opened a studio on Edgewood that he shared with George Kinghorn and April Glover. Between the three of them, they would rotate shows every third month. Jacksonville can credit this trio for bringing some of the first “party shows” to the nineties, that, in Jim’s words, “were packed fun, but drank us broke.” Circa ‘97-ish, Pedestrian Gallery was opened with Steve Williams on Park Street and from there they opened Raw Materials (an arts supply store) in 5 Points. Brooklyn Contemporary Arts Center was then opened in the late 90s, but after the building was condemned, Jim moved all his efforts to his Springfield studio where he maintained a gallery for the better part of the 2000s.
  He has been involved in countless projects with the city, his first being the Jaguar painted in panels that peeks out through the boarded up windows of the Bosswick Building on Bay Street. Other notable works include his Ribbon of Life Project at Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital and the etchings of his beloved healing palms that enclose the security entrance at the Jacksonville International Airport, just to name a few.
That Whole Art Thing
With his creative hands he has brought to Jacksonville so much more. He has been a sounding board and muse. He fosters intellect, creativity and passion for the up and coming generation of Jacksonville artists. Jim stressed that what the music and visual creatives are doing for this city right now is huge. 
  Most do not know this, but Mr. Draper played a pivotal role as a liaison between the city and Infinitesimal Records for the concert series held at Snyder Memorial Church. For four consecutive Fridays in July, Jim helped give life to a beautiful building, that now continues to sit vacant downtown. Jim sees the big picture and I remember talking to him about the Infinitesimal shows a month or so before it happened. He said that he envisioned the city-owned Snyder Memorial as a great concert venue and recording studio space that could be rented to local musicians. So my question is, why can’t the city make this happen? 
  The creative community is a significant feature in the Jacksonville landscape, but is considerably lacking in support. Jim’s advice is that each person must be concerned with his or her own survival, not in a mean and competitive way, but in a figuring it out kind of way. All the while, also being concerned with those around you by supporting, engaging and helping each other. 
  The big buzz a few months back was “pop up” galleries in vacant spaces around the urban core. I asked Jim how these amazing spaces for artists (both visual and musical), like one of my personal favorites, Nullspace, can afford to stay open.  Jim simply answered that “somebody needs to write a check.” How wonderful would it be if MOCA could have an alternative space, such as Nullspace, for contemporary artists in this city, in the same vein as PS1 in New York?
The Crystal Ball
So where is Jacksonville headed?  During my talks with Jim, he continually stresses the idea of the need for institutional support of the city.  Just like many of us, these days are even darker for many artists. According to Jim, doom and gloom await, unless we (as a community) all step up to the plate. 
Draper is being proactive in his ideas of what can keep one afloat during the worst economy that most of us have ever seen. He recently sat down with with other notable Jacksonville artists, Crystal Floyd, Matt Abercrombie and Clay Doran, to discuss printing pieces to make the art more affordable for buyers. Soon you will be able to purchase limited edition prints from many of Jacksonville’s best artists at Jim’s studio. 
Jim and I also talked about the terms “art gallery” and “show.” He thinks we should stop using those words altogether and instead refer to these spaces simply as stores. Maybe this will help people realize that this is someone’s job, not just a fun party. Enter Jim’s storefront on King Street. He and artist Tony Rodrigues have teamed up to share the space. Now Tony and his wife’s t-shirt line, TACT, are able to have a storefront without all of the startup costs associated with opening your own store. Everyone wins. 
The Short of It
Jacksonville has an incredible young energy about it right now, but if nobody is spending money, then all the artists are going to starve to death. As Jim puts it, “It kills me to see people living on dirt.” Although you would think this would be at the forefront of people’s minds, he also goes on to explain that “everyone can talk about how wonderful, creative, etc… people are, but every dime spent must be about maintaining the local community. That is the future of Jacksonville.”
  As a business owner myself, Jim is truly an inspiration. Day in and day out, it is not only stressful but mentally and emotionally exhausting to run a small business. This is one’s livelihood and it truly comes down to sinking or swimming. At this point, the majority of us are treading water, but he still has his head up. Just when I am ready to throw in the towel, I look to Jim for inspiration and hope that we will get through this, but when even he begins to question where Jacksonville is going, that leaves me feeling very uneasy.  Let’s make something happen Jacksonville!