A Great Day in Lavilla

by Alexandra McClain
The Lavilla Project is a movement put together by Jacksonville artists. Everyone from musicians to poets, photographers and writers has gathered together in hopes of creating history and a chance to revive Jacksonville’s artist culture.
The idea for the project began with recreating a classic picture taken in Harlem, New York. “A Great Day in Harlem” was taken in 1958 of famous African American Jazz musicians, artists and poets who were influential during the era of the Harlem Renaissance. The picture depicts a rich part of history and culture in the art community.
Cyntoria Thomas, a local educator, proposed the original idea by posting the picture to Facebook. She had previously seen “A Great Day in Harlem” while visiting the African-American Museum in Charlotte, NC. She tagged a few people and suggested recreating the picture with a few local artists. The picture would be titled “A Great Day in Lavilla,” representing Jacksonville’s own artist community. It would be a way to springboard a true movement in reviving the city’s artists’ culture.
Of those whom she tagged was Anthony “Ahynte” Heard, a spoken-word artist, and Christopher White from the Katz Downstairz. “Cyntoria put it online, and I caught onto the vision,” said White. “The rest is history.”
Thomas, Heard and White reached out to many artists and friends they each knew in hopes of informing as many people as possible about the project idea. A Facebook group was created to help make more people aware. Eventually artists were contacted and gathered for a meeting that brought together a group of dedicated people all looking to contribute in whatever way they could to the project.
“I think it’s a breath of fresh air,” said photographer Lori Robinson. She’s known to many as LoRob, owner of Southern Elite Photography. “It was something much needed, and it allowed for Jacksonville to step outside the box.”
The Lavilla project sets out to bring different artists together. “We have a lot of good artists, but everyone is so spread out,” Thomas said. “No one really knows what’s going on.” Thomas blames the lack of awareness. “There’s so much talent in Jacksonville, but not enough proper marketing,” Heard said. People can’t appreciate what they don’t know about. There seems to be a lot of hidden talent in Jacksonville. “This movement helps bring the artists to the forefront,” Heard said. “It gives people something tangible and makes them aware.”
Jacksonville is sometimes said to have the “crabs in a barrel” syndrome, where artists work against each other instead of working together to build each other up. However, the Lavilla project was created to counteract this.
“The artist community is getting an identity as a whole,” said White. “Before, each artist may have had individual groups of followers; now the community can see the artists as one group with a single identity.” White describes the Lavilla Movement as providing an opportunity to “…reach across the aisle. It’s created open lines of communication,” he said. “It broke down barriers and preconceived notions that different artists had about each other. The picture has helped to create dialogue where relationships can be built and networking can occur.”
Jacksonville was once known as the “Harlem of the South”, which is something the Lavilla Project seeks to restore. “This is a platform for artists to grow,” said Lady G., local spoken-word artist. “This project will show people what our city is capable of.” The Lavilla project is intended to create awareness about what’s happening in the city’s own backyard.
“At this point, it’s going to take more than just the picture,” said Ill Clinton, local musician and producer. In order for the movement to really work it takes the whole community. “The city would have to get involved,” he said.
“I would like to see people take the arts seriously in the community,” said Jihan Grant, owner of DigitalMiss Designs. She is also the photographer responsible for capturing the picture that was revealed to the public at February’s Artwalk. “I want people to see our efforts represent a real tangible movement.”
“The project has brought a lot of artists together,” said LoRob. “I’ve met new people, and getting to know them and their passion has been an educational experience.” To have multiple artists come together in a movement like the Lavilla Project is rare. “This is where history starts,” she said.
The picture was revealed during February’s artwalk Downtown at the Carling. The Lavilla Project won’t just end with the revealing of the picture though. The artists are working together to have the picture commissioned and hung in one of the local museums. “We want this to be an actual part of history,” said Heard. They are also currently working on putting together a collaborative album that includes different genres of music. There has even been planning in creating an artist district along with planning for an urban arts festival coming this summer.