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Jacksonville Opens Public-Art Call To Southeast; Local Artists Want Bigger Shot

Lindsey Kilbride

Updated 8:20 p.m. on 01/25/16 

On Sunday evening, downtown Jacksonville’s Union Art Studios and Gallery space was packed with about 100 artists.

They decided to band together after taking issue with a city plan to fund public art.


One of them, Chip Southworth, was in the spotlight a couple years ago after painting city electrical boxes with Keith Haring-style designs and getting arrested for it.

On Sunday he was wearing a shirt printed with “SYLA,” which stands for “Support Your Local Artist.” He spoke at the meeting because he says the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville isn’t advocating for local artists enough.

“It’s easy sometimes in the bureaucracy to lose advocacy a bit, and that’s where I think they need to just help us out, strengthen up a bit, and we also need to do that too,” he says. “We need to be more loud and advocates for our own cause as well. Obviously, I mean, that’s what this is all about.”

This month, the Cultural Council issued a call for artists to decorate six downtown locations, including skyway columns, bike racks and some traffic-signal boxes, with a budget totaling $135,562.  

The call is open to artists throughout the Southeast, but several local creatives say they don’t have the public-art portfolios to compete because, before last year, art on public surfaces was illegal in Jacksonville.  

Sculptor Sherry Jhill says she wants to work with the Cultural Council to make sure some funding is set aside for locals.

“Those midline temporary installations that allow an artist to come in and show incremental growth that builds a portfolio, those are the opportunities that we’re hoping to seed and make a budget specifically for,” she says.

Another artist suggests creating an artists’ union. Another says he’d mentor people who have never submitted a design for a city art project. The vibe in the room was one of unity.

Cultural Council Executive Director Tony Allegretti says he’s excited to hear it.

“It’s not an easy profession, but it’s not one that you can leave behind if that’s who you are. You’re an artist and we realize that,” he says. “We want to create as many opportunities as we can for them.”

Allegretti says just because out-of-state artists can answer to the call doesn’t mean they’ll get the projects. He thinks locals have the advantage because they have connections with vendors, and out-of-towners would have to pay their own travel costs. He explains more in a blog post.

And he thinks artists may have gotten confused by the wording of the call.

“I think folks looked at that call because it had other states and thought, ‘Well, these projects can go to all outside-of-Jacksonville artists,’” he says.

In reality, he says, it’s still possible the traffic-signal boxes could go to local artists only. But he says it’s unlikely the call will be officially tweaked on paper. He says crafting and vetting calls is an expensive, lengthy process, which is why the Cultural Council chose to solicit for all six projects in one call. Allegretti says the arts community’s feedback is important for the future phases.

All together, the projects make up phase one of the three-phase Downtown Investment Authority Urban Arts Project, which is using unprecedented city funding for public art. Southworth says he’d like to see some money earmarked for painting a large number of traffic-signal boxes. He says it’s the perfect opportunity to give artists with sparse portfolios something to build on.

“Anytime I’ve done work in the city and been painting, there’s always tons of interaction, a lot of photo taking,” he said. “That’s good for the city, it’s good for the artist, it’s good for the Cultural Council.”

But DIA dollars are city dollars, and Public Works only approved artists to adorn the boxes with wraps, meaning they’re not allowed to paint directly on the box.

Southworth says that’s a problem because the colors aren’t as vivid on wraps, and they’re more expensive.

Allegretti says he’s not sure if Public Works will flip on the wrap decision, but he says Cultural Council may be able to help create a more extensive traffic-signal-box program.

Sunday’s takeaway: The artists said they need to do a better job communicating with the Cultural Council. Allegretti says he hopes to see more of them at the Council’s meetings.

Original story below:

On Sunday night, Jacksonville artists met to discuss what they see as problems with a city plan to fund public art.

Just over a week ago, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville issued a call for six downtown art projects with total price tags of $135,562, but many local artists aren’t happy with conditions outlined in the requests.

One of them, Chip Southworth, helped organize more than 50 others to meet at The Union Art Studios and Gallery downtown.

“When you look at that call, there’s not a lot of people in Northeast Florida who can really answer that call based on the way it’s written right now,” he says.

The call is open to artists throughout the Southeast, and some think a portion of that money should be earmarked for local artists.

Cultural Council Executive Director Tony Allegretti said in a blog post Friday that local artists will have a leg up with calls

WJCT is reaching out the the Cultural Council Monday and the story will be updated with more information. 

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.