Jacksonville has never been void of potential. To the contrary, scattered across this large city are cultural groups, artists, patrons, innovators and more — visionaries that see this Southern city for what it is and what it could become. Enthusiastically, Jessica Santiago now finds herself among those local game changers.

The common refrain in Jessica’s story is one of relationships — amongst people, but also the connection between cities and citizens, places and inhabitants, between art and individuals. Her first career in real estate naturally relied on these connections. But following almost a decade of brokering sales, she underwent a paradigm shift. Having encountered the work of Napoleon Hill, she became interested in the idea of higher consciousness and the subconscious mind.

So, she pursued a new career, founding a consulting company that layered entrepreneurial concepts with developing the higher mind’s abilities. However, Jessica herself is an entrepreneur and it didn’t take long before she received her next inspired thought.

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On a trip to South Florida, a common occurrence for Jessica, she experienced a defining moment. Twenty-four years old and on a date, she stepped into an art gallery. The art consultant on staff spent an hour with her, explaining the pieces on display and the stories of the artists. It brought the artwork to life. Out of that experience, she decided to open a gallery of her own.

Immediately, she began to craft a business plan with goals of representing national and international artists alike. There was a momentary thought to take all of this to South Florida, an area already known for robust art scenes in cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale. However, Jessica was determined to put Jacksonville on the map.

The question of “where to start” didn’t last long. Jessica returned to what she knew best — relationships. She sought out a mentor. Research led her to Mary Ann Cohen, a successful and well-respected art dealer with galleries in Los Angeles, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Confirmation came as Mary Ann’s daughter was a tennis instructor at the University of North Florida. Mary Ann was no stranger to Jacksonville and thought the city had potential.

Mural by Jessica Becker | jessica-becker.com

Mural by Jessica Becker | jessica-becker.com

What followed was a whirlwind of education through experience. Jessica worked at galleries in St. Augustine, learning the business of art curation and collection. She found the standard model of art collecting to be stuffy and aloof. Instead, she wanted to create a lifestyle brand that would appeal to millennials in particular. She began first with pop-ups, partnering with local hospitality like Sawgrass Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.

Even her many trips to South Florida proved educational, affording her a front row to the revival of the city of St. Petersburg, the changes in Miami and the development of areas like Wynwood. She followed the stories of visionaries like Tony Goldman. During the 1970s, he revitalized the area of SoHo in Manhattan and later took on South Beach in Florida during the 1980s. Tony’s method was to renovate historic buildings and offer up space as studios and galleries (often rent-free) to artists. He would then bring in restaurants to attract younger crowds. As Jessica puts it, “He paired development with art.” His was a skill of placemaking, and he understood the relationship of a neighborhood and its inhabitants.

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To put it bluntly, that is what she desires for Jacksonville. Jessica wants to help people live inspired lives and through this, invigorate the development of downtown Jacksonville. For her, art and relationships are the answer. In 2013, Jessica founded Wall Street Art Gallery. It was her official for-profit foray into the world of art collection and representation. But Jessica dreams big. She was excited by events like Art Basel in Miami and the Canvas Outdoor Museum Show in Palm Coast. In her eyes, Jacksonville could do the same.

Enter Art (Re)public, a three-day mural and art festival centered in Jacksonville’s urban core. Jessica has been told many times that it is an ambitious project as if that’s just cause for her to give up. She decided to own the reaction. In an email to the clients of Wall Street Art, she announced the event as an ambitious project led by visionaries.

Perhaps it’s that boldness and energy that’s led her to success in championing the support of city leadership and sponsorship of national brands for Art (Re)public … or maybe it’s her appreciation of the people around her and a desire to build up a great network and seek out mentors. It could even be her hard work ethic and optimism in perfecting her craft and trade. Whatever the explanation you choose, at the center of it all is Jessica Santiago, local catalyst and game changer.