From EU Jacksonville: Shannon Blankinship, Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper, on "The Year of the River" an initiative by Cultural Fusion Jax bringing together more than 50 institutions to raise awareness of the St. Johns River as the “cultural current” of Jacksonville and an important driver for economic development, recreation, tourism and quality of life throughout Northeast Florida.
It is easy to become single-focused when it comes to the issue that matters most to you. Depending on your background, you probably approach that “issue” differently than others. This is why having 50 different cultural institutions in northeast Florida all work towards the 2015 theme of Year of the River has been eye opening and inspirational in ways that couldn’t have been predicted. Theatre, music, art exhibits, children’s curriculum, forums, boat tours and festivals have allowed this initiative to reach into every corner of the region, affecting not just residents, but tourists and those connected to northeast Florida from afar.
On the water, “Voices of the River: An Exploration of African American History along the St. Johns” was a first-time collaboration by the Ritz Museum & Theatre, providing insight from a few of our most storied African American residents, James Weldon Johnson and Anna Kingsley. The Timucua Native American population was also given a voice through the “Currents of Time” exhibit at the Museum of Science & History. A boat trip with St. Johns Riverkeeper provided a modern look at the river, followed by a walk through The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens and performances by Theatre Jacksonville. This event was such a success that it is likely to be repeated, and the collaborations and growth will continue!
Along the St. Johns, “Mirrored River: Where do you See Yourself” by Kate and Kenny Rouh of RouxArt will undoubtedly be an exhibit that not only commemorates the energy behind this year’s work from the Cultural Council of Jacksonville, but also continues to showcase the importance of our river in the city of Jacksonville. Being able to see the river, the city and our own reflection within this mosaic speaks to our interconnectedness and the role we all play in the health of the river. We have the ability to influence the St. Johns for good, or we can continue along an unsustainable path that leads to more water pollution and adverse impacts. The use of sustainable materials in this piece as well as a focus on reflective expression provides an important catalyst for community dialogue and introspection. The next step is action.
Perhaps, the exhibit that best flexed Year of the River muscles was “Reflections: Artful Perspectives on the St. Johns River” at The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens . In this exhibit, local artists were asked to take their experiences, talents, concerns and artistic ability and reflect on a piece of artwork from The Cummer Museum’s permanent collection with a modern interpretation. Combining fine art with such varied mediums as printmaking, glassblowing, and etching meant that this interpretive exhibit spoke well to the multitude of uses and concerns impacting the St. Johns River [the linked post is not published yet] right now. Influence from man on the landscape dominated many of the modern interpretations, but also prominent was the immense influence that the St. Johns River has had on artists for more than 200 years.
While we continue conversations about the need to protect the river and its tributaries from failing septic tanks, algae blooms, and stormwater runoff and the need for a stronger water conservation ethic, Year of the River [the linked post is not published yet] has helped us to better understand what is at risk if we fail to clean up our mess. We have been enlightened and reminded of the importance of the river and her needs. Through artistic expression and collaboration, we have been able to experience, explore, and celebrate the magic of the St. Johns and our connections to her. Now, it is up to us to ensure through our actions that the Year of the River [the linked post is not published yet] is only the beginning of many more to come.