In Jacksonville, our city limits outpace any other in the continental U.S. But the abundance of space has inspired little aside from fragmented cultural development. We have artists, but they’re often hidden away, hardly known and barely supported.
Meet Shawana Brooks. A beer with her is worth the drive from any location in Duval. She’s proving that the gaps in our city can be bridged, and that there’s potential to turn Jacksonville’s disconnected creative community into a burgeoning art scene — it’s basically her current job description.
As the Arts and Culture Developer for the Jax Makerspace, Shawana works for the Jacksonville Public Library (JPL) with the goal of engaging artisans and the public through collaborative events, exhibitions, programming and more. She manages and curates a 25,000 square-foot loft-like space on the first floor of the Main Library. Already with her first program of 2017, “Kesha: A Black Female Experience of Identity and Race,” Shawana is establishing herself as a passionate advocate for artists in Jacksonville.
Her excitement for our city is readily available as we discuss its future. “We’re going to be as major as any other art city,” she said.
Shawana didn’t originally set out with a goal of supporting the city’s art scene. Instead, in the early 2000s, she was a poet perfecting her craft. During this time, she met her future partner and husband in Roosevelt Watson III, a Jacksonville native and artist. Even then, it was Georgia on their mind. The couple moved to Savannah to allow for Roosevelt’s academic pursuits. However, five years later and following a loss in the family, they returned in 2011.
It was a time of reflection for Shawana. She worked long hours in retail, but found the job unfulfilling. She also recognized, through her own experiences and those of her husband, the local arts scene was fragmented and lacked local support, so she started at home. Utilizing her talent as a writer, she stepped in as manager for Roosevelt. He could create visual works, and she could make sure the public understood them.
Her first move was to attend everything and meet everyone. Dealing with a hectic work schedule that regularly claimed her weekends, Shawana still made it a point to attend all the events she could. She quickly learned art is a business, and in order for artists to continue their work, they needed to be paid. Exposure wasn’t enough. Wallspace wasn’t enough.
This belief led her to become a representative for those around her. During the planning of a local event, she was called on to find artists to display their work. Upon learning the artists were to be paid with “exposure,” she successfully negotiated actual payment instead. For her, it was confirmation. This was what she wanted to do full-time.
In her continued effort to develop herself as an advocate, she joined Cultural Fusion, a collaborative meetup funded by the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville. Here, Shawana’s passion for Jacksonville and for artistic collaboration was recognized, and she was hired into her current position with JPL.
At this point, Shawana is entrenched in the local arts scene. Already recognized as Employee of the Quarter by JPL, Shawana has planned out events and programming for the Makerspace for the next two years. Outside of her main gig, she’s continuing to work to connect and support the creative community in our city.
If ever you need to be inspired and excited about Jacksonville’s potential, then grab a beer with Shawana. She’s one of many locals who recognize the 904 is laden with potential.