For local artist Nicole Holderbaum, art is about freedom of expression and the ability to inspire others. Her artistic talent was cultivated by her parents and teachers from an early age. She grew up in South Florida, where she loved art and surfing in equal measure. Her favorite surfer and artist, Ozzie Wright, was a source of inspiration. When it was time for college, she enrolled at UNF because its location on the coast allowed her to continue to surf while pursuing a degree in art.

Nicole began creating mural art when she was selected as an ambassador for STRATA clothing. She produced her first mural at the STRATA clothing warehouse in Mayport. Until that time, her focus had been on painting canvas on a much smaller scale.

“Street art is definitely really popular right now, but it wasn’t so much at the time. I just thought it would be cool to paint on walls,” she said, adding mural art is actually very difficult because the artist is working with such a large surface. “They are a lot of work and they’re really hard. But there’s nothing better than seeing your artwork on a huge wall.”

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Nicole found that mural art provided a way to inspire people, specifically the youth of Jacksonville.

“The first time I worked with kids was at the Meros Academy in a summer program directed by my friend James Smith, a teacher at Eugene Butler Young Men’s Leadership Academy,” she said. “I worked as a coach and we led students through the painting of a mural.” Whenever she works with children, her goal is to communicate the value of working together. “Not every kid is going to be good at math, not every kid’s going to be good at art, but together those two kids can change the world.”

Nicole said her next step was One Spark 2015.

“I wanted to participate, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so I met with Shaun Thurston, an artist who’s probably one of the best muralists in Jacksonville,” Nicole said. “He encouraged me to do something that had meaning in it, something that would benefit the city, something that served a higher purpose.”

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Her project, Art for Jacksonville’s Youth and Beyond, was located in Hemming Park during the five-day festival.

“Each day, I had a wall that was about 20-feet long and 8-feet tall, and it was two-sided. Every day we would paint the wall white, and then I would take the spray paint and create a big coloring book image for the kids on each side, and all day long kids would come and paint it,” she explained — adding her project did not win One Spark, but it did lead to her next project.

“At OneSpark, Joshua Roads, who worked with the Parks and Recs Department, approached me and asked me to do the kids murals project for their summer program at their community centers, which are all located in underprivileged areas of Jacksonville. I got to work with kids, some of the most underprivileged children in our community, and it really inspired me to continue to do that.”

In early 2016, Nicole was awarded a Spark Grant. Her project, one of only five selected from a wide group of applicants, was titled, “Jacksonville’s Youth Ignites the Spark District.” The Spark Grant is awarded by the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville in an effort to create a walkable urban district with arts and culture in the heart of downtown Jacksonville.

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Now known as the Jax Kid’s Mural Festival, Nicole’s project grew into a series of four mural festivals for children, held in multiple locations in downtown Jacksonville. The third installment is taking place at the Jacksonville Landing on October 1, and will feature her trademark murals for kids to paint as well as water activities, skateboarding and music by The Band Be Easy.

Through her art, as well as her work with the youth of Jacksonville, Nicole Holderbaum has become a catalyst for change within the community.

“My ultimate goal as an artist and a human being is to inspire people to see and acknowledge the potential within them. By doing what I love to do and being successful at it — doing it no matter what, pursuing my dreams — I hope to inspire people to do the same, and show them that if I can do it, they can do it. Anybody’s capable. So I want people to identify their dreams and their passions first, and then feel inspired to pursue them.”