The walls that form Downtown’s many buildings come in all sizes, ages and conditions.
Some are newer, like the broad and barren light brown western wall of the Blackstone Building on Bay Street.
Some are older, like the narrower, dirt-flecked southern side of the former Jones Bros. Furniture company that still bears its name on the Hogan Street building.
In three weeks, those two walls along with another dozen, will be more than just sides of buildings. They will be art, sprawling murals of colors and scenes installed by nationally recognized artists. Passers-by in the heart of Downtown might already have seen one take shape.
The effort is part of Art (Re)Public, a three-day mural and art festival set to take place in the urban core Nov. 11-13.
It’s being staged by a nonprofit that shares its name with the event, all of which was founded by fine art curator and consultant Jessica Santiago.
The goal, she said, is to bring an international eye toward Jacksonville’s burgeoning art environment and attract economic development to the Downtown area.
“Anywhere you put interesting art, interesting people want to be there,” said Santiago.
The buildings that will house the murals are privately owned and the project won’t use public funding. Sponsors include Preston Haskell, Pilot Pen and Estee Lauder. Santiago declined to say how much the program will cost.
She and her board started making headway on recruiting building owners, artists and sponsors in March.
The pieces won’t include advertising elements or solicitation — that’s against city code.
Jim Klement, redevelopment coordinator at the Downtown Development Review Board, said rules dictate the type of art that can be be placed on buildings and that groups are encouraged to approach the city department about their plans for guidance. However, the city is more reactionary when it comes to enforcement for violations.
And while city and Downtown officials haven’t needed to be involved up-front, they’ve been supportive of the concept, said Santiago.
The building owners who have signed on are enthusiastic about the possibilities.
The George Doro Fixture Co. building at 102 A. Philip Randolph Blvd. in the Sports Complex is one of the murals slated to begin in several weeks.
Paul Grainger, vice president for building owner Iconic Real Estate Investments, said he believes the “very ambitious” project can change the perception of how people see buildings.
“We talk a lot about how important public art is and how that can kind of change the image,” he said.
The southern wall of the building will become the blank canvas, with Grainger saying the work largely will be left up to the artist and nonprofit.
Grainger said the mural will help the building’s visibility. He hopes the project can become an annual event.
Downtown Vision Inc. CEO Jake Gordon compares the effort to that of Wynwood Walls, the Miami warehouse district that’s been transformed into an artistic haven for street art and has drawn international attention.
“It’s an amazing aesthetic,” he said of Wynwood.
Gordon appreciates the effort to infuse more arts and culture Downtown.
Santiago also noted the Wynwood project that started in 2009 as an inspiration, but said Downtown’s effort will have more of a local vibe with its “Modern City of Dreams” curatorial theme for the artists.
The three-day festival will encompass a fashion show, lecture series and curated dinner in addition to the spotlight on the murals.
Santiago and others with the nonprofit since March have worked to secure the artists, the buildings and sponsors to make the inaugural event a reality.
For the majority people, the most recognizable portion will be the murals that will be created Nov. 1-9.
One, however, already is in progress and had curious onlookers throughout the day Wednesday.
Artist Case Maclaim, who Santiago describes as one of the most respected street artists in the country, began working on the western wall of the parking garage at 25 W. Forsyth St. Both he and his wife, Samira, are using lifts to craft the piece.
On Wednesday morning, the wall to the common person was just a series of markings.
By that afternoon, it had begun to take shape, a person carrying a stack of books with shades of blue and brown in the early stages.
And by Thursday afternoon, the book-holder’s clothes had more definition and atop his pile rested a lime tome.
It’s a sign of what’s to come in the next several weeks, when walls just like it will be transformed.
Mural project coming to vacant Downtown walls
Here’s a list of the 14 Downtown walls that will be receiving an art infusion for the inaugural Art(Re)Public event Nov. 1-4.
• 421 N. Laura St.
• 100 E. Adams St.
• Akel’s Deli, 315 W. Forsyth St.
• Atticus Bar, 325 W. Forsyth St.
• Blackstone building, 233 E. Bay St.
• George Doro Fixture Co. building, 102 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.
• Jones Bros. Furniture building, 520 N. Hogan St.
• Magnificat Café, 231 N. Laura St.
• Parking garage, 541 Water St.
• Parking garage, 20 W. Adams St.
• Parking garage, 45 W. Bay St.
• Parking garage, 25 W. Forsyth St.
• Regions Bank building, 200 E. Forsyth St.
• Unity Plaza shipping containers at Unity Plaza in Brooklyn