ASHES TO ASHES

It finally happened. Elton Rivas, One Spark wunderkind, mastermind and CEO, took the plunge on Monday and very publically tendered his resignation from the troubled festival. Or got fired. Or was asked to resign. That the pissing match regarding Rivas’ departure lacks as little concerted aim and as much haphazard splatter as a Gate station men’s room should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, both the organization and the festival have been characterized over the years by Rivas’ unilateral bombast, followed by explanatory and expository damage control and, ultimately, finished off with a bright yellow glaze of overpromise.

How it really went down is an oeuvre that likely will be left to the juiciest of imaginings, but we do know this: In his release regarding his departure, which hit the Florida Times-Union’s news stream first early Monday, Rivas said he had “chosen to resign from One Spark.” Without the context of a later release from the remaining One Spark camp stating Rivas had “tendered his resignation at the request of the board,” clearly the intent of his announcement was to bird-dog the spin while attempting to give the appearance that he was still in the power position, which should also come as no surprise to those who’ve followed this meltdown.   

The other tactic at play with Rivas’ premature announcement was to grab the spotlight and shake the thunder out of One Spark’s announcement about the restructuring of the festival and its corporate composition, which included word of Rivas’ devestment as a mere footnote. 

Speculation about “the world’s largest crowdfunding festival” has been simmering in the background for months, since the majority of the staff was somewhat unceremoniously relieved of their posts over the summer in the wake of a ballyhooed come-to-Jesus meeting with Shad Khan that eventually lead to Khan divesting himself of pretty much any association with One Spark and its self-populating cadre of ancillary money pits, such as the ill-fated KYN “incubator” project.

But regardless of the fate of the festival, one thing has been pretty predictable: Whether by his own hand or someone else’s (you decide if you’re Team Elton or Team Peter), Rivas’ time was limited. In other words, even [insert name of sightless creature of your choice here] coulda seen this coming a mile away.

The shenanigans surrounding the announcement of Rivas’ departure are equally predictable; that’s how it goes with these guys. But someone should have told him that you don’t make the big bucks because you’re talented. You don’t make the big bucks because you know how to appear powerful and perfect. And certainly you don’t make the big bucks by not finishing what you start.

You make the big bucks for being the person who stands tall when things are crumbling, who protects those following you before you protect yourself, and most especially, for having the idea that solves the problems, not just the idea that starts the ball rolling with someone else’s money.

Leaders — real leaders, good leaders, successful leaders — lead. They don’t just write checks and declare victory.

Fortunately for the festival and for Northeast Florida, there’s a very teachable moment or two here now, and plenty coming up in the near future, where One Spark and some other equally very important, civically-motivated, growth-oriented, positive initiatives are concerned. First and foremost, the moral to this story is the importance of leadership over salesmanship, of character over finances, of farming over investing, and of doing over talking. 

But perhaps the biggest lesson here extols the value of organic diversity over the potential for taking credit, of listening to the rumble rather than rumbling forward. The most egregious flaw of One Spark has always been the fact that it operates as an island. The One Spark camp has seemed to have a chip on its shoulder all along, determined to show us all that it was going to be successful no matter what the people wanted, and that when that happened, they would be the ones responsible. As admirable a sentiment as it is to want to be the team that saves the city, keeping sight of the big goal always has to supercede the need for authorship.

With Rivas at the helm, it’s been easy to write off the oranizational control issues and the brownie-hounding as the twaddling of one little Nero and the byproduct of youthful exuberance. Now we’ll get to see if the One Spark we’ve all wanted — a more open, more democratic One Spark, one that values the concept of Solidarity within its community — is in the offing now that Rivas has been deposed. 

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