Leaps & Bounds

If you’ve been near the St. John’s Town Center recently, you’ve likely noticed a new tenant: ART See and Shop. This 4,000 square foot pop-up store and gallery has been a second home for local artists of all stripes—from actors to graphic designers and glass artists—since October 29. This is the type of work the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville has been working on throughout 2019 and which Executive Director Joy Young hopes to build on in 2020.

“As Cultural Council, we need to be limber enough [and] nimble enough to take on those kinds of opportunities in partnership with the artists and with, in this case, the Markets at Town Center,” Young said.

The organization has recently experienced its fair share of challenges. In 2018, its former executive director abruptly resigned, its collaboration manager left, and the community questioned the future of the entire operation. But every challenge offers new opportunities, and that’s exactly what Young looked forward to when she arrived in Jacksonville.

In November of 2018, the Cultural Council’s search committee unanimously chose Young, then based in South Carolina, as its next leader. In the months leading up to February 2019, Young attended board meetings, began building relationships with staff members, and gained a greater understanding of the organization and its impact on the community.

“That was one important step in paving the way to success, so that when I arrived, I arrived with some background information that I might not have had, had I not done that pre-work, if you will,” Young said.

During her first four months at the Cultural Council, Young focused on strengthening the organization’s relationship with the city. Her experience and connections allowed her to bring in new faces with national experience in project management and design.

By the summer, Young was helping the Cultural Council turn its attention to a new project, LEAP, which highlighted Jacksonville’s art programs, projects, professionals and partnerships.

“LEAP was scheduled to start with State of the Arts Creative Jacksonville. We were going to do public art tours on bikes, on buses and walking and then ending with our arts awards,” Young said. “Leap leapt. However, Hurricane Dorian got in the way of the true bounds I was hoping we would have made during those four days.”

This event ended September 7, but the ideas woven into it are something Young says the Cultural Council will incorporate as it continues to plan for 2020.

Before coming to Jacksonville, Young served in leadership positions within the South Carolina Arts Commission for 14 years. During that time, she learned how various cities take care of their art communities. According to Young, Jacksonville does not have “the same level of corporate support for its local art agencies.” However, the 28 organizations that the Cultural Council serves experience a good bit of support from business communities and individuals.

To be clear, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville is not part of local government. It works with the City of Jacksonville as it relates to Art in Public Places and the Cultural Service Grant Program.

“I would like to say that the City of Jacksonville has been an amazing partner to the Cultural Council and we are incredibly grateful to them. We are incredibly grateful to all of the people who have supported me and who have supported the Cultural Council through its downs and now through its ups,” Young said.

Those ups include a seven percent increase in the Cultural Service Grant Program budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. According to Young, the Cultural Council hasn’t experienced an increase in more than five years.

Young and her team have used these last couple of months to plan for the new fiscal year, which began October 1. In the near future, locals can look forward to a new art installation in Cuba Hunter Park. Jaxoscope will be installed across from the Florida Theatre before the end of 2019. The Cultural Center also plans to collaborate with other organizations to create a more robust calendar so that residents and tourists alike are more aware of and engaged in all that Jacksonville has to offer.

“Every arts organization produces a product that is consumable. We should think differently about who we’re targeting as our consumers, not just residents, but tourists and visitors,” Young said, “and I think there is a lot of potential in creating avenues and venues where we are setting our community of artists and arts organizations up for being part of that cultural tourism industry. That’s a great opportunity and something for the Cultural Council to delve into in the coming months and year.”

Evidence of the Cultural Council’s efforts are sprinkled around Jacksonville through entrepreneurial workshops, financial support for teachers, the newly retiled fountain in front of the Yates Building, the Skyway murals and the utility box wraps, which celebrate the musical history of Jacksonville.

“When you think about this city being the birthplace of the Negro National Anthem, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ we must honor our artist community. When you think of this place being home to hip hop artists 95 South, Quad City DJ’s, the 69 Boyz—these artists are known internationally, and they’re from Jacksonville,” Young said. “And the Cultural Council has really worked hard to make sure that not just Jacksonville knows but the world knows by utilizing public art to memorialize these artists.”

According to Young, the arts and culture community in Jacksonville employs more than 1,400 people and is responsible for a return in economic value of more than 85 million dollars. The Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville helps ensure individuals’ and organizations’ success, but it can’t do it without continued community support by donating, being involved and visiting places such as the ART See and Shop, which is open until December 20.

“I would want to urge the community to support arts and culture as audience members and to support arts and culture as producers themselves,” Young said. “You don’t have to be a professional to be an artist; you just have to create.”