There’s an old saying that Everyone has three good ideas.  It’s one of those sweeping generalizations that sheds the proper amount of SMH, Hallmark-style light on being artistic and has the added benefit of being true. The deeper connotation, though, sums up the angst artists feel regarding that general lack of value placed on their work. In the publishing business, we sometimes say, “People think that, because they’ve read a magazine, they know how to make one.” In other words, creative endeavors often look infinitely easier to accomplish than they actually are.

Whatever divine magic it takes to inspire artists to create is just a part of the puzzle. To truly create something great, something exciting, something that changes minds, lives, and communities, the execution of that inspiration takes planning, skill, maturity, and even a type of wisdom. Successfully bringing an idea into the tangible world is tougher than pulling a rabbit out of a magical hat, even if you replace the phrase “Abracadabra” with millions of dollars.

Which brings us to One Spark. While the future of the festival is not yet decided, we’re likely watching the dying embers of the Northeast Florida arm of the world’s largest whatchamacallit festival, at least in its current iteration, making this a good time to take a look at some of the most poignant aspects of One Spark, to see what lessons we can learn and carry forward as a community.

Overall, One Spark has been a positive for Northeast Florida, and has helped the area develop a brand that extends a bit beyond our immediate sphere of influence. A lot of people — good people, dedicated people, talented people — have busted their backs and their creativity for the festival, and that’s the kind of investment that far outweighs and outlives dollars. To simply give up on One Spark at this point would not only be flushing whatever work has been done right down the toilet, but would also be a devastating blow to those who believe and have believed in the growth of the 904 into a viable and vibrant place to live. Simply put, things are pretty bad, but not bad enough to just give up.

So in that respect, what are the things that need to be done in order to make One Spark into what it should have been all along? Wherefore the CPR to breathe life back into the cooling coals and make sure we maintain the closest thing we have to a signature arts event?

First of all, it seems that one thing most everyone can agree on is that there are, and have been from the inception, some major problems with leadership and stewardship within the One Spark organization. While general consensus seems to be that Elton Rivas’ petulent behavior serves the organization poorly, he shouldn’t be singled out too harshly. The idea that just about anyone attached to the festival simply had no idea that their over-inflated salaries and plush corporate perks were being consumed at the expense of the projects strains credulity. Furthermore, the idea that the festival’s investors, who poured millions of dollars into a poignantly youthful, generally inexperienced, and overtly grandiose group, had complete confidence in this group of newcomers is either sad or naïve. They certainly should have known better.

Replace the current regime with a small, rationally compensated, civic-minded, and deeply invested leadership group with at least some history of service to the arts, culture, and growth of Northeast Florida, and balance them with a powerful board of volunteer leaders. Supply them with complete transparency into the entire process, and allow them to organize, inspire, and execute a festival that meets realistic goals and manages organic growth. As the festival grows, so might the payroll, but not the other way around.

The idea that anyone thought an arts festival in Jacksonville, Florida, (which is the original pitch for One Spark, going back to its days as the Epoch project) was immediately going to bring in millions of dollars and put NEFL on the map is simply baffling. Setting realistic financial goals and spending money wisely are the keys to the success of an event such as this, not throwing cash dollars wildly at giant marketing campaigns and pie-in-the-sky ideals.

If an event such as One Spark is ever going to help redefine our region, it must grow at its own pace and be encouraged to lay down deep roots, rather than being over-fertilized to produce pretty-but-fast-withering flowers that seduce big investors but do little to nourish either the festival or the community. A transparent and accountable financial team is the only possibility for another One Spark, considering the carving up that’s forever tainted the current system.

Seriously, has anyone ever been able to tell their friends what the hell One Spark really is? From the beginning, the actual nuts-and-bolts of this festival have been quirky at best and colluded in the extreme. Crowdfunding festival? Technology fair? Venture capital expo? Arts competition? Street party? Shark tank? Jesus, the add-ons seemed to go on for days. It’s almost like the One Spark festival was continuously changing its definition whenever a new potential financial backer came along.

Oh, wait. OK, yeah.

Anyhow, a lot of great programming ideas were piled into One Spark, but the festival would be more successful if it were more tightly defined, and maybe even in aggregate, if it were split into a couple of differently themed events that are easier to explain and more specifically focused. Making an intricate and complicated event seem accessible is great; burying a pretty simple concept beneath a mountain of jargon-filled bullshit is a bad idea indeed.

Love it or hate it, One Spark has become something of a brand in Northeast Florida, and it would be a shame to throw it out with the current nasty bathwater. The idea of putting the 904 on the map with this kind of thinking is a solid one, and when compared to a lot of other possibilities for branding, it’s fairly easy to run and incredibly inexpensive. With a few simple steps, we can claim the work our community has put into this event and carry on in a way that makes sense for everyone, not just a small group of entitled “creators.”

Our community has made great strides in the last few years, and it would be a shame to see a few mistakes turn us on our collective heels and send us back into the land of “Oh, yeah, that’s because Jacksonville sucks.” Together, we’ve built a lot, and together, we’ll learn whether this idea really is the path to success for our artists and our community. By refusing to quit and continuing to put our creativity to the test, we’ll find out if One Spark really can start a fire, or if we’re just dancing in the dark.

About EU Jacksonville

october, 2021