Jacksonville, Florida
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A Vibrant Hub of Culture

Discovering the evolving artistic nature of Jacksonville, FL

By Amy West

Growing up in Jacksonville, I was an artsy kid. I loved everything from coloring to painting to crafts—the messier, the better. That passion led to a college degree in art and when I finished school three years ago, it took me all over the world, exploring art everywhere I went. My new mission was to find beauty everywhere, even the most unexpected places.

Although I had never stopped loving art, my travels inspired me all over again even after I returned home to Jacksonville. I’d been away at college for several years, and it seemed like I had a lot to catch up on. With my new mission to discover beauty and art all around, I found the Jacksonville Cultural Council’s Art Map and decided it was time to reacquaint myself with the city. I knew that murals were a big deal downtown, so I headed to the city’s urban core to let Jacksonville show me what it was all about.

The Voice of Jax in Street Art

Courtesy of @alimadisonhodge / Instagram
A sculpture resembling an open-mouthed face at the entrance to Hemming Park in Jacksonville, Florida
Enter an oasis of art and culture in Hemming Park

Strolling through downtown, I was in awe of the sheer number of murals. Whether it was a small glimpse or the whole view, each time I turned a corner, I’d discover a new one. Each November, art platform ArtRepublic brings artists from all over the world to create new murals, so the scene downtown is always dynamic. Only the best artists are chosen, and the results were incredible. The graphic designs saturated the area with brilliant hues and creative statements, and I was swept up by the passion and perspectives that visually popped off the walls everywhere I looked. This was the heartbeat of Jax—energetic, vibrant and strong.

A sculpture resembling an open-mouthed face at the entrance to Hemming Park in Jacksonville, Florida
Enter an oasis of art and culture in Hemming Park

Not wanting to leave the splashes of creative expression all over downtown, I entered an urban oasis—Hemming Park, one and a half acres that form the epicenter of Jacksonville’s downtown art scene. No self-respecting art lover would miss it! Here, I found another world of color and art but in a natural setting. Succulents and other plants wound around a fenceline, while a central fountain made a natural gathering space. The park is a hub for community recreation and quirky artistic expression, and I fell in love with it.

Breaking Down Walls at MOCA

Steps away from Hemming Park was the Museum of Contemporary Art known as simply MOCA, a destination I’d visited plenty of times. On this visit, I took my time weaving through the gallery floors. A massive piece of draped canvas in pastels leapt out at me; and later I loved a multimedia work that was both visual and interactive. Made of a wall of woven cords displayed tiny speakers, I heard whispering as I got closer. This was art unlike anything I’d ever imagined—both inspiring and entertaining. That’s what amazing art is all about, and I smiled as I walked into the atrium.

It’s one of my favorite places in the museum. The atrium sponsors installations from emerging artists, and they change several times a year. Though the fact that there’s always something new is reason enough to come back over and over, the installation process is usually visible to the public, so return visits reveal a different stage of the project. I watched the artist work, noting the expression of concentration on her face. The soaring ceilings and bright light pouring through the windows were a beautiful backdrop for her piece, still in the process of being created. I knew I’d be back to see it again.

Unwinding at the Riverside Arts Market

Courtesy of @alimadisonhodge / Instagram
A unicycle rider juggles for a crowd at the Riverside Arts Market in Jacksonville, Florida
Artistic skills thrill at the Riverside Arts Market

The next day, I wanted to continue my hunt for more of Jacksonville’s art. What I’d already seen had lit my creative fire, but there was plenty more inspiration out there. And what better place than a gathering of creatives? In the shade of the Fuller Warren Bridge the Riverside Arts Market, or RAM as the locals call it, was cool and breezy. Known for its unique artisan crafts, I strolled down the main thoroughfare. Photographic prints featuring perspectives of Jacksonville gave me new appreciation for the beauty of my city, and gorgeous handmade jewelry by local artisans added some sparkle to the scene.

A unicycle rider juggles for a crowd at the Riverside Arts Market in Jacksonville, Florida
Artistic skills thrill at the Riverside Arts Market

I watched art lovers share laughter and creative energy, radiating through the air as people chatted. Children begged their parents for their favorite crafts and edible treats (as I suddenly remembered doing myself), and pets were paraded with pride through the market leaving grins in their wake. As I made my exit I couldn’t resist snapping a shot of a prim little pug in a tutu to share on my Instagram, the image of that cute puppy face surrounded by all that pink tulle framed by the underbelly of the bridge was absolutely iconic. Only in Jax.

Losing Yourself at The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

Exiting the market I walked next door to the stately Cummer Museum. I’d explored so much of Jacksonville’s current art scene and wanted to explore beautiful collection and traditional gardens along the riverside as a contrast. It was the first Saturday of the month so there was free admission—bonus! I entered the gardens, scented by blossoms. Three gardens with their own distinct sense of place transported me. I traveled from the English Gardens complete with fragrant azaleas and a cypress-beamed pergola, to the Italian Gardens with its two reflecting water pools. I finished in the sunken Olmstead garden with rustic stone work and picturesque brick walking path, perfect for a few photos. My initial rediscovery of art was complete.

Exploring my hometown again with a fresh perspective made me realize that my hometown had evolved into an exciting hub for art, culture and innovation. Searching for inspiration, I had more in common with it than ever before and I didn’t need to look far to find my passion—it was all around me. From the traditional to edgy, Jacksonville had surprised me and I knew that the best was yet to come.

Uncover more art and culture throughout Jacksonville.