For years, street art has been one of the biggest phenomenons of the art world. Artists have taken to the streets, using public buildings, bridges, telephone booths and other structures as their canvases. They develop pieces, sculptures, campaigns and expressive installations in an effort to spread messages and initiate movements to people of the world through creativity and beauty.
In some cases, street artists are commissioned to do pieces for the improvement of the area surrounding. Places all over the world, from Berlin to Atlanta, and soon, even Jacksonville, are using street art to improve the aesthetics and public image of their respected areas.
There has always been a grey area about street art and the legality or purpose of it, but if you look past that, most artists have been given permission to do their pieces. This proves that people want to see more art in public places, sometimes even in their homes and businesses.
“After all, it’s just paint on a wall, it’s part of life, there will be paint on that wall regardless if it’s a grey wall or a mural, but if it’s a well-done, thought-out and meaningful piece, it becomes more than that, and actually could make a difference,” said prominent Jacksonville artist, Shaun Thurston.
“We aren’t just talking murals either, we are talking installations, sculptures, murals, musical performances and expressive projects that enrich the quality of life in and surrounding the 904. To put it in perspective, arts and culture have more of an economic impact on Jacksonville then tourism does,” Tony Allegretti, Executive Director of the Cultural Council of greater Jacksonville, said.
People like Allegretti and Thurston have been working to bring more art to the public eye. With help from committees like the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, soon, these commissioned pieces and projects could be an important part of life here, and the artists of the 904 will no longer be on a mission to scout the next wall to spray paint secretly. They might actually have the opportunity to be sanctioned as professional artists, not only expressing themselves but also doing art for the benefit of our city.
In the past, artists like Banksy, JR and Shepard Fairey sold installations upwards of a million dollars and have started campaigns that challenged the true meaning of street art.
If we look at what Allegretti does, the goal is to bring art to the public eye so that Jacksonville is more aesthetically pleasing and is plentiful in opportunities for artists to contribute to the city they know and love.
“The thing is, not many cities are supportive of installing art in public places, and I don’t think Jacksonville is really aware of that, which is a good thing, but there are also places around the world that are seeing the benefit of art in public places, and why shouldn’t Jacksonville be on the forefront of that?” Allegretti said.
To layout how the Cultural Council works and how it plans to bring more art to the city, Allegretti explained the “three legged stool” of how funds are dispersed and how artists, projects and pieces are chosen. He explained that the council is what the three legs of the stool supports. They bring all the funds, artists, organizations and ideas together to make art a bigger piece of Jacksonville.
The first leg of the stool is the cultural service grants that fund projects to benefit the city. Right now, the cultural council receives a minute amount of the city’s budget to redisperse to 22 different art organizations around the city to use in their budgets as a grant. That money allows Jacksonville to explore further into potential art projects, and the support of these organizations has become the cornerstone of what the cultural council is all about.
The second leg, is Art in Public Places, and this is where we start talking about art in the eye of the public and where street art plays a role. Art in Public Places is a small part in the budget for any Community Improvement Projects that the city invests in.
For instance, the city is starting to recognize that with these improvement projects, we don’t necessarily need to build something new. You can simply add to what we have already. Instead of putting paint on a wall and calling it a day, the city is hiring artists to design pieces that will help improve the given area through art. This means if a proposal is approved, places and objects, such as light poles, electrical boxes, telephone booths, bike racks, murals, sidewalks and bridges could all become pieces of art to better the quality of life in our area through aesthetics.
Chip Southworth, a prominent Jacksonville artist and advocate for laws allowing people to do art in public places, said, “I think public art has a huge value that way [being public]. Maybe someone thinks that they don’t care about art, but then some piece shows up on their route to work, and suddenly they’re transformed into art lovers.”
For example, with projects like art walk and sculpture walk, the government and community are seeing the positive feedback and popularity of such ideas and events and are starting to become more open minded about laws for art in the public eye.
“No one, unless a brutalist, would rather have a metal box over local art really, so in five years from now we will look back at this and probably go ‘duh’ it should be art,” Allegretti said.
The third leg of the stool is the private donor. With private money coming in to the Cultural Council, they can allocate that money back into the other two legs and re-disperse funding to private art organizations and Community Improvement Projects with the city’s approval.
For those wondering how certain projects are chosen, it is a delicate process. Whenever the council receives money, a panel of professionals decides which pieces are approved, where, and how much money goes to which ones and who gets to carry out the task of doing the piece. It is a well thought-out process in which all parties have a fair chance to apply for workspace or potential projects for the city, and the council takes pride in its transparency in choosing projects.
In the end, it seems as though more and more support for the public arts is surfacing here in Jacksonville. There are people fighting tooth and nail to make Jacksonville more aesthetically pleasing and artists are chomping at the bit to be a part of it. There have been submissions from hundreds of artists in and out of Jacksonville, and even out of the country, who have placed bids on projects that have been approved for public art. We are at the tip of the iceberg here in Jax, and if all goes as planned, we will be one of the foremost communities around the world that will be embracing the arts and making them part of our everyday lives.