Tony Rodrigues has come close to bashing his thumb more than a few times. The guy has called North Florida home for 20 years and in those two decades he has become known as one of the area’s most renowned artists, working with a myriad of mediums and in a variety of spaces. When he is not working on his art, he hangs art, which is why he is as handy with a hammer as he is with a paintbrush and thus the near collisions with his opposable phalange.

North Florida is home to more and more visual artists, drawn to the area by the weather and cost of living, but more importantly, the proliferation of support for working artists. With more and more work making its way out of studios in the region, and a gallery system that has yet to accommodate the volume, artists like Rodrigues are turning to alternative spaces to showcase work. Off-the-grid spaces are popping up everywhere and it is seemingly impossible to enter a coffee shop or a bar that doesn’t have an exhibit hanging on the walls.

Crystal Floyd is also a Jacksonville-based artist, with a work space at the CoRK Arts District. She currently curates the rotating exhibits at the three Bold Bean Coffee Roasters locations. “As a visual artist, if I hadn’t had the opportunity to show at alternative spaces, I wouldn’t have gained the traction and experience to show in established galleries when the opportunity arose,” Floyd says.

Part of an installation by Tony Rodrigues at Chomp Chomp in Avondale. // Photo: Josh Wessolowski

“Alternative spaces allow emerging artists and established artists to test the market for their work. Galleries sometimes focus on specific themes and traditional formats that may not match up with what an artist is currently working on,” Floyd says. Experimental art and different methods of display become easier to accommodate in alternative spaces. “A good space will have a good way to both display the art and promote the artists.”

Artists and galleries traditionally forge a partnership based on sale price and gallery commission on each piece sold. Floyd emphasizes that when done well, both parties win.

“Alternative spaces place the artists closer to the sale of their work, but it also transfers the responsibility of promotion and marketing to the artist,” Floyd says. At Bold Bean, artists get 100 percent of their sales. “[Bold Bean] understands that they benefit from having artists shows because if they didn’t have rotating exhibits, they would have to purchase art for their walls. It makes for a good symbiotic relationship.”

Rosalie Lagao curates work at Rain Dogs, a bar and live music venue in Jacksonville’s Five Points neighborhood. Lagao has prepared six group shows, pairing an emerging artist with an experienced artist for the upcoming calendar of exhibits. The pieces at Rain Dogs are hung a bit higher than at a standard gallery both for aesthetics and practicality; at the popular night spot, patrons may bump into the work after a few too many.

“Artist at Rain Dogs can not only hang work creatively, but they can be free to push the envelope and take on subjects that may not fly in a regular gallery,” Lagao says. “Typically, in any city, people would find venues they like and tend to circle around four or five places, but now there is so much art going on that everyone is disbursing a bit. There are an insane number of artists in this area that are really good.” Lagao believes that alternative spaces are the key to supporting locals and visiting artist. Whereas the city’s size may intimidate many, Lagao says there are more than enough businesses with space willing to display artwork, creating the sense of artistic community and connectivity that many crave.

“Artist at Rain Dogs can not only hang work creatively, but they can be free to push the envelope and take on subjects that may not fly in a regular gallery,” says Rain Dogs. curator Rosalie Lagao. // Photo: Jesse Brantman

Rodrigues has hung and shown work at coffee shops, bars, pop-up events and art fairs. All have their advantages, he says. “Bars lend themselves to good art installations because the opening event is already stocked full of drinks,” Rodrigues muses. Space and circumstance become the factors that most affect where work is hung and sold. “I would never hang work where the art can get damaged.” He also says that an artist needs to think about lighting when looking at alternative spaces to hang work.

Recently, the virtual world has become its own alternative space. Rodrigues showcases work, fields inquiries and sells work directly from his Instagram feed. “There are more and more galleries and alternative spaces that don’t even have brick and mortar walls anymore,” Rodrigues says. Artists are still using the website model to exhibit work and collect payment, creating art specific profiles that drive traffic to the web.

Ultimately, adaptation and variety give credence to alternative spaces. Artists are constantly working to get their work in front of the eyes of the public and hiding artwork in corners does not make sense for the space nor the artists. “I would look at every space as an opportunity to install interesting shows,” Floyd says. “If I had to work in a dark space or a space with low lighting, I’d go for a glow-in-the dark or black lighting exhibition. There are ways around every challenge and using alternative spaces to your advantage is key.”

Check out current Installations by these great artists at the following local alt venues:

Bold Bean (Riverside): Charles Hedrick

Bold Bean (Jax Beach): Jennifer Lail

Bold Bean (San Marco): Brook Ramsey

Rain Dogs.: Kevin Arthur, Justin Drosten, Ana Kamiar & Carolyn Jernigan

Brew 5 Points: Adam Hill

Chomp Chomp: Tony Rodrigues