A look back at the faces who impacted the local arts scene this year


It was a year that started with titties; specifically, the unclothed titties in a photograph of a pregnant woman reclining in the sunlight. Little did we know then that, as a community, a year later, the photograph on display at MOCA would expose the fact that there were more boobs on the City Council than in the museum, and energize the upcoming civic elections.

From those somewhat inauspicious beginnings, 2015 turned out to be a mostly quiet year of slow-to-boil growth. Unlike the year before, characterized by mercurial spikes of brilliance and zeitgeist, the sum of 2015, in retrospect, added up to much more than the sum of its respectable and notable parts. Public art explosions like The Cummer’s Jax Outings project, Jenny Hager-Vickery’s Downtown sculpture walk, and the “Mirrored River” mosaic mural on the Southbank brought capital “A” art to the people. More esoteric palates found great nourishment from more than one mind-blowing Project Atrium exhibit at MOCA, the Airport Art Commission’s Face Forward collaboration at CoRK and JIA, and a visit from legendary environmental artist Christo masterminded by CCGJ. And that’s just the tip of the fine art iceberg floating down the St. Johns in this Year of the River

The local theater experience also took a turn from the previous season’s high profile, drama-driven attitude that brought us historic local productions of “Les Mis,” “Angels in America,” “Rent” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” 2015’s theater persona owed more to musical offerings than ever before; in fact, it might be remembered as the Year of the Revue, as it seemed like every time you turned around, from Amelia Island to St. Augustine, the standard musical fare was augmented by freshly imagined revues of “Hair,” “Grease,” and a host of others. And PBTS trotted out “Mr. Burns,” easily the edgiest musical this town has seen since “Bayboy” (which also featured local jewel Josh Waller).  

It may not have been a year of living dangerously, but it certainly has strengthened our community, honed our sensibilities, and sharpened our discipline. That being said, there were a few notable faces that stood out, even in this Year of Plenty.

The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra has seemed like a stranger in its own hometown in recent times, and has been in desperate need of a shot in the arm. What better way to breathe life into arguably our most valuable cultural asset than a reboot? Exciting new branding, a new, more 21st-century attitude, and yes, euro-hottie Courtney Lewis waving the baton look to be the right moves already.

For more years than we care to count, Mabrey’s 21st century percussion performances have carved out a niche in the 904. In the process, she and her frequent partner in crime, Robert Arleigh White, brought avant garde music where none had gone before and grew into a beloved community resource. The announcement that Mabrey is retiring from the “21st Century Music” game marks (in an intricate, mixed-signature tempo) the end of an era.

If you’re a visual artist, Northeast Florida is a great place from which to emerge, and it’s always great to watch the development of a local creative come into their own. Such was 2015 for longtime stalwart of the 904 Overstreet Ducasse, a talented young painter whose work this year seemed to finally grab hold of its unique voice and exert its own authority. By finding the common ground between the Caribbean influences of his work and the modern American struggle, Ducasse’s recent pieces combine to express a narrative that is as compelling as it is exciting.   

Art begins with perception, and nowhere in our lives are our perceptions more shaped, nurtured and strengthened than during our school days. As the newly installed director of arts at DCPS, Smith wasted no time at all reaching out to the community to improve the potential of his freshly minted program.  

Quite possibly the hardest working man in local theater this year, Girard’s presence is a palpable force on the stages in our community. His string of seemingly nonstop character development began last year, and his work with virtually every homegrown company, including PBTS, Stage Aurora, and 5 & Dime, culminated this year at MOSH with his performance as Legba in Al Letson’s original play “John Coffey Refuses to Save the World.” 

When One Spark imploded amid layoffs and grand financial woes earlier this year, Rivas was left holding both the bag and the keys to the future of the festival. With a new (more realistic) plan, an improved (more altruistic) attitude, and quieter (less bombastic) direction — plus a heavier influence from the event’s Daddy Warbucks, Peter Rummell — Rivas has the opportunity to turn the ship around. Whether or not the community is ready to salute what many consider to be a pirate flag remains to be seen.

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