The Art of Downtown

As editor of Folio Weekly, I often covered two of my passions.

One is the arts, which have had a huge role in my life and probably contributed to my many years as a designer. Now, I can’t believe that I’m going to work in a museum every day as communications manager at The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville.

MOCA is a world-class institution that mounts one-of-a-kind, locally curated exhibits like “Abstraction Over Time: The Paintings of Michael Goldberg,”“Tarred Over Cracks” by Ingrid Calame, “Mythos: From Concept to Creation” by Enzo Torcoletti and “Unseen Images, Untold Stories: The Lives of LGBT Elders in Northeast Florida” — all going on now.

MOCA also creates educational programs, such as a collaboration with Duval County Public Schools that brings in kindergarten, second- and fourth-grade students from the district’s Title I schools. That means about 15,000 kids will be exposed to the museum, its exhibitions and hands-on art activities on the fifth floor — many for the first time. Not only will these experiences fuel their imaginations, but research shows that access to arts education has educational, psychological and social benefits. These are some of the stories I will share in my new job.

My other passion is Downtown Jacksonville, which I have to admit was a huge factor in deciding to work at MOCA. From my new vantage point at 333 N. Laura St., I’ll have a front row seat to events at Hemming Plaza, The Jacksonville Landing, The Florida Theatre, the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, the Ritz Theatre & Museum and more. I’ll have a role in the monthly First Wednesday Art Walk and be smack in the middle of the next One Spark.

I’ll see firsthand the development of the Shipyards (whatever that becomes), renovations on the Laura Street trio of buildings and the fate of the Bostwick building (the jaguar mural is great, but a functioning building with real windows would be better).

I plan to be one of the first to dine at Levels, a restaurant being developed in a Bay Street building recently bought by retired NFL wide receiver Laveranues Coles Jr. He’s also considering a recreation venue at The Jacksonville Landing, which again is being discussed for a facelift, including removing a chunk to provide a view of the St. Johns River from Laura Street.

I’ve already eaten my weight in Burrito Gallery’s blackened shrimp burritos. Now I’ll be just steps from their guacamole plus Indochine, Pho A Noodle Bar, Chomp Chomp, Olio, On the Fly Sandwiches & Stuff, Chamblin’s Uptown, Dig Foods, Koja Sushi, Zodiac Bar & Grill and many more. And new places like Avocados and The Corner Diner are opening up all the time. I’m a little worried about being only a flight of stairs away from Café Nola’s shrimp and grits.

Fortunately, in the most walkable neighborhood in Jacksonville, I’ll have easy access to the bridges and Northbank and Southbank riverwalks.

Despite all of these attributes, 62.6 percent of the 14,000 respondents in the JAX2025 survey were not satisfied with the vibrancy of Downtown Jacksonville, making it the biggest item on the city’s to-do list.

Many issues still need to be addressed Downtown. Chief among them is the heart of the neighborhood: Hemming Plaza. Most days, it’s not being used to its potential, and the city makes groups interested in staging events there jump through too many hoops. Friends of Hemming Park, a consortium of arts and cultural groups led by Jacksonville historic preservation activist Wayne Wood, is interested in becoming the park’s manager. Friends of Hemming Plaza includes Downtown Vision Inc., the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and Late Bloomers Garden Club. Funding details in the city’s RFP still need to 
be ironed out.

Image issues such as lack of parking (a myth) and safety fears (unfounded) need to 
be addressed.

Ideas like The Connector, a private nonstop bus between Jacksonville Beach and Downtown that recently sought crowdfunding, will help bridge the divide and make Downtown a viable option for people who want to take advantage of the many entertainment options in the area (without driving after drinking or the expense of a cab). You can find original live music and DJs — local and touring — at places like 1904 Music Hall, Atticus Bar, Burro Bar, Club TSI Discotheque, De Real Ting Café, Dive Bar, Dos Gatos, LIT, Underbelly and more almost every night of the week.

As a Folio Weekly reader, you probably know about these things. My new job will be getting you to experience what Downtown has to offer, especially what awaits you when you walk through MOCA’s doors.

Journalism has been my guiding passion for 25 years. Now I have the opportunity to cultivate two others and share them with the community. See you Downtown!