by KATIE GILE
Over 20 years ago, a Jacksonville optometrist boarded a free trolley to explore Oregon during a conference trip. Bound for downtown Portland, Dr. Wayne Wood found his eyes drawn to a man juggling fire in the street.
There, shrouded from Portland’s drizzly weather by the Burnside Bridge, was a collection of local vendors, artists, and the public, coming together for the love of the arts. Upon his return, Wood set the first gears in motion to create an artistic hub that Jacksonville could call its own. Thanks to the creativity and determination of numerous movers and shakers, the idea came to life when the Riverside Arts Market (RAM) opened in April 2009 under the Fuller Warren Bridge.
At 10 am March 2, RAM will celebrate its 5th Anniversary with a parade, opening ceremony and performances by the Stanton Preparatory School Band and the United States Navy Band, among others.
For the past five years, RAM has established itself as a great performance space, farmer’s market, an eclectic bazaar for local vendors selling handmade products, and as a unique place to go on Saturdays.
“If you can’t have fun at RAM, check your pulse,” says first RAM director Tony Alegretti. Alegretti says RAM has become something of a homegrown institution for the community and as a force for progress. From a bike valet and kayak docking, to eco-friendly requirements for product packaging, keeping RAM green has been the plan all along. “There is an era of social consciousness and gratitude for what we have. It’s that time,” says the current RAM director, Krysten Bennett.
According to Bennett, the arts market has also become known as a small-business incubator. With roughly 160 businesses setting up at RAM every Saturday, the market acts as a springboard for local entrepreneurs. “Some of the vendors spend all week creating products to sell and are able to pay their mortgage by the end of Saturday,” Wood says. Alegretti says that in addition to companies that sell products at RAM, those looking for a boost should consider a sponsorship of the Arts Market.
Quickly filling this season’s dance card with community awareness, RAM is set to feature a morning yoga series, small business development education, and to highlight the “Save the St. Johns” campaign, Bennett says.
Looking to the more distant future of RAM, Wood, Bennett and Alegretti all hope to see it joined by other creative foci in Jacksonville. Some plans feature expansion toward Riverside Park and Five Points, while others imply the growth of those areas toward the bridge. Whichever pieces move on the board, RAM has kindled community excitement in Jacksonville, and it’s not done yet. “We’re just beginning to find the possibilities under the bridge,” Wood says.
RAM Celebrates Five Years of Art and Community
by KATIE GILE