“Jacksonville could be a great art city.” At least that’s the vision of Long Road Projects, a Jacksonville-based artist residency program and edition house founded by duo Aaron Levi Garvey and Stevie Covart Garvey. Formed as an organic response to the insipid art scene in much of the Southeast, Long Road Projects (LRP) hopes to provide a new avenue for people to get involved in contemporary art.

LRP, which began as a non-profit but had trouble garnering funds that weren’t conditional, has gone a more independent route to ensure creativity isn’t stifled by political snags.

“We both work full-time,” Aaron said. “And it’s all coming out of our pockets.”

Their goal is to have the greatest impact (internally and externally) and give Jacksonville returns on whatever investment it provides to LRP and its artists, both financially and culturally. The Garveys are quick to credit their local collaborators (Mixon Studios, Payton Rogers Homes and SunRay Cinema mainly) who took a chance to help build the community LRP strives for.

In Studio, 2016

Lala Abaddon | lalaabaddon.com

Getting fresh faces and new art into Jacksonville happens in fits-and-starts mainly because the number of paths artists can take to get in front of our community is fairly limited. Show up for an Art Walk, join in with One Spark (which is no longer an option for artists), or be a mid-career artist and show at one of our museums — limited.

“We’re really trying to be the mortar between bricks,” Stevie explained, adding LRP wants to connect the dots between institutions, artists and organizations.

By activating connections they’ve made over the last decade of collecting and curating international works, they plan to show Jacksonville off as a great place to make and buy art to both national artists and collectors alike. Democratizing the process in which people engage with artists might be challenging, but it helps begin conversations that open the door to this city in new ways.

“It’s really just a ton of fun to be honest,” said Stevie as they both gesture to walls beautifully packed with framed work in their Riverside home. “Interacting with artists, hearing their stories, and watching them do their craft is just super exciting and fun.”

To Dream the Electric Dream- 24x36'', 2016-1

To Dream the Electric Dream 24×36” 2016 | Lala Abaddon

It doesn’t take a millionaire’s budget either — most of their pieces are just a few hundred dollars. “Just grow up and buy some art,” Stevie prescribed. That fun and excitement is exactly what LRP is trying to inject back into the art scene here.

We have legitimate business woes here in town, however. Stalled downtown revitalization, public pension issues, struggling schools and massive infrastructure projects to focus on — so a $10 million piece of public art just can’t be top-of-mind for most residents. But that doesn’t mean art has be a localist hobby or, worse, nothing. Artists are making meaningful work all over, Jacksonville included. All we have to do is invite them in and support them.

Taking after other successful residencies, like the Fountainhead Residency in Miami, LRP is trying to build a nationally recognized community for artists and art appreciators from the ground up — and the grassroots nature is refreshing. Contemporary art already has a stigma for being pretty stodgy, intimidating and distant, so bringing professional artists in at ground level is engaging in a new way.

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The Glass House 24×36″ 2016′ | Lala Abaddon

Their first artist-in-residence, Lala Abaddon (whose New York career has begun to take off), not only filmed a 27-hour endurance performance piece, but also produced an edition of prints with CoRK artist George Cornwell and gave a lecture at Sun Ray Cinema explaining her work and craft. Lala has taken the video on to Detroit for an exhibition with RedBull House of Art while the print edition stayed here to be collected by locals. Funds raised go directly back into the residency program.

“I would love for it to be known that when artists come [to Jacksonville], they’ll be respected and cared for and that their work is appreciated and they have a fresh, new audience which they may have never met,” Stevie explained.

Artists are taking the residency seriously. Upcoming artists Tommy Coleman and Gamaliel Rodriguez, who have shown internationally, both showed great interest in working with LRP after visiting Jacksonville and meeting with Aaron and Stevie. “Art is an import/export business, but no one has really treated it that way here,” Stevie pointed out. They have full command over the import and believe it will spark the export side of things if fostered well enough.

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In the end when asked, “Why Jacksonville?” Stevie’s answer couldn’t have been more clear.

“The grass is green where you water it. Jacksonville is where we call home and we want it to be an amazing art city. Pretty simple.”

By Kingsley Spencer | Contributor