Along the stunning St. Johns riverfront, a burgeoning arts district rises from a diverse urban landscape, illuminating the heart of the city with sophisticated style. Consistently recognized as one of the Top 25 Arts Destinations in the country by AmericanStyle Magazine, the Jacksonville cultural scene is rapidly growing for both residents and visitors to enjoy. From its historic multicultural and film industry roots to world-class festivals, symphonic events and Broadway productions to hip art galleries and renowned museums hosting contemporary, Renaissance and up-and-coming masterpieces, experience cultural enlightenment in Northeast Florida.
Northeast Florida is the site of numerous festivals celebrating art and culture, music and food. Spend your next vacation jamming to music seaside, learning new dance moves from other countries, impersonating a film critic or experiencing the region’s rich pirate history while enjoying fresh Florida seafood.
What could be more relaxing than listening to cool jazz in the warm Florida weather? That’s possible in Jacksonville. One of the most anticipated events of the year, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival provides an outlet for local and world-renowned musicians like Chuck Mangione, Dave Koz and Al Jarreau to perform over the course of three days. During the festival, local artists display their paintings, sculptures, furniture and jewelry for purchase in the venue at Art at the Met. On the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway, the Jacksonville Beach Summer Jazz Series offers phenomenal jazz in a casual, family-friendly atmosphere. Performances start in the early evenings, ocean side at the Sea Walk Pavilion weekends in June, July and August.
Also at the Sea Walk Pavilion, get rid of the blues by enjoying the genre in Jacksonville Beach. The annual Springing the Blues Festival is a free springtime event where celebrated performers heat up the stage with their own form of artistic expression.
In Downtown Jacksonville’s Metropolitan Park, the annual World of Nations Celebration invites visitors to experience the culture, cuisine and music of over 30 different countries. The three-day festival showcases the unique traditions and attire of people from all continents. Taste the diverse foods of South Africa, Columbia or Vietnam and witness the customary dancing and revelry during the Parade of Flags as the colorful banners fill the sky.
With an abundance of food options, Northeast Florida’s culinary masterpieces are worth celebrating. Food and wine festivals of all varieties take place throughout the region, but with the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, seafood is serious business. There is no better showcase of the ocean’s finest delicacy than the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival . Each May, Downtown Fernandina Beach hosts thousands of visitors as they witness pirate invasions and shrimp boat races, peruse the booths of over 300 vendors of arts & crafts and antiques and, of course, sample shrimp and fresh fish prepared a variety of ways. The Great Atlantic Seafood & Music Festival in Downtown Jacksonville Beach is also a great spot to taste delicious seafood, browse the crafts market and dance al fresco to Zydeco, jazz, blues and beach music.
Film has long been a part of the framework in Jacksonville. Relying on this history, the Jacksonville Film Festival , held annually in May, works to serve as a destination for the independent film community while paving the way for a new generation of talent. Through a series of events including film premieres and competitions, workshops, parties and Q&As with well-known and up-and-coming directors, attendees can enjoy the art of film while hobnobbing with celebrities.
A Cultural Wonderland
Since the beginning, Jacksonville has laid out a welcome mat to people of many diverse backgrounds. From the native Timucuan Indians, French Huguenots and the Spanish of the region’s formative years to the achievements and experiences of the African Americans, Hispanic Americans and others, all have their place in Jacksonville’s history. These ethnic groups have shaped the city into what it has become and infused their traditions into the daily lives of its residents over the years.
Today, Jacksonville continues to be a cornucopia of cultures. Explore the region’s diverse heritage at its monuments and historic sites and celebrations of traditions, art and music.
From classical to jazz, blues to Broadway, ears receive a musical treat when tunes collide with the sounds of the city. Downtown Jacksonville’s Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts houses the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra , one of the nation’s top ensembles, and produces concerts of opera, gospel, big band, ballet and classical from Bach, Mozart and Beethoven and the Ritz Chamber Players, the nation’s first African-American chamber music ensemble. The Chamber Players perform chamber works from the standard classical repertoire, especially contemporary African-American works to increase public awareness of African-American composers within classical music. The Times-Union Center also brings productions of beloved Broadway blockbusters and cultural shows to delight audiences through the FCCJ Artist Series .
In addition to the works of the FCCJ Artist Series, Broadway-style musicals can be seen throughout the community. Built in 1967, Alhambra Dinner Theatre is the oldest dinner theatre in the country. The theatre has been producing Broadway quality performances for the whole family such as The Wizard of Oz , The King and I, Grease and Fiddler on the Roof . A nationally known treasure, Betty Grable performed her final stage production at the Alhambra in 1973. Community theaters such as the state’s longest running community theatre, Theatre Jacksonville, founded in 1919 and located in the San Marco district and Players-by-the-Sea in Jacksonville Beach are also the favorites of locals, exciting audiences with both musicals and plays.
History and music share the stage at the nearby historic Florida Theatre and The Ritz Theatre & LaVilla Museum. Built in 1927, The Florida Theatre is one of the last remaining examples of America’s “Picture Palace” era and is one of only four remaining high-style movie palaces built in Florida during this period. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been the site of vaudeville acts and concerts (Elvis performed his first indoor concert there). Today, performances range from country, rock and classical music favorites, dance ensembles, classic rock album recreations, spoken word and plays.
The Ritz Theatre & LaVilla Museum celebrates the rich legacy of the African American community. Located in the LaVilla neighborhood of Jacksonville, or the “Harlem of the South” as it used to be known, the Ritz Theatre is home to an array of exciting musicals and theatrical performances, including the popular “Amateur Night at the Ritz” and the Ritz Voices Youth Choir.
In celebrating musical diversity, annual celebrations in the region pay homage to different genres of music as Jacksonville is home to the Jacksonville Jazz Festival , where a number of world-famous musicians perform over three days, and Springing the Blues Festival in Jacksonville Beach, a free springtime event where celebrated performers rock out ocean side.
Comedy. Drama. Music. Dance. Jacksonville and Northeast Florida’s exploding cultural scene is as rich and diverse as its population.
Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts
As just one of the growing number of performing arts venues, the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts attracts thousands of theater and music fans every month. The three halls of the center include the 1,800-seat Robert E. Jacoby Symphony Hall, designed for non-amplified stage events; the 3,000-seat Jim and Jan Moran Theater, designed for amplified performances; and the 600-seat C. Herman and Mary Virginia Terry Theater, a multi-purpose hall with a stage.
With a riverfront view, this theater complex is located in the heart of downtown Jacksonville and is home to the Florida Community College at Jacksonville (FCCJ) Artist Series and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra , ranked as one of the nation’s top 40 orchestras. “ABBAMANIA”, “Cirque de la Symphonie”, “Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto”, “The Nutcracker”, “Holiday Pops” and “Handel’s Messiah” are just some of the performances scheduled in 2008.
The Florida Theatre
Famous for its classic design and beautiful restoration, the Florida Theatre hosts 200 acts annually for every taste and age including ballet, opera, contemporary pop, jazz, rock, country and blues. The theater opened in 1927 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As an anchor to downtown development along the beautiful St. Johns River, the Florida Theatre draws 250,000 people to Jacksonville’s center each year and is more than just an entertainment center — it’s also home to graduations, awards ceremonies, lectures, business meetings and charity events that support the community’s schools, churches, hospitals and civic groups.
The Ritz Theatre and La Villa Museum
As a mecca for African American culture and heritage in Florida, The Ritz Theatre and La Villa Museum is a must see. The Ritz Theater was designed in 1929 by local architect Jefferson Powell in the Art Deco style. From the 1930s through the 1960s, this theater jammed with Ray Charles and many other artists who worked the Chitlin Circuit. The renovated theater seats 400 and a large stage for a variety of movies, music, dance and theatrical productions. Adjacent is the recently opened LaVilla Museum, which features an exhilarating mix African and African American cultural exhibits. Half of the 11,000-square foot museum is dedicated to historical exhibits of LaVilla and Northeast Florida, and the other half of the museum features rotating local and national exhibits. Regularly scheduled events include Amateur Night, held the first Friday of each month, and modeled after the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem, N.Y. The audience is the judge and contestants compete for cash prizes. In addition, on the first Thursday of each month the lobby of the Ritz is transformed into a stage for poets and poetry lovers as part of its “Art of Spoken Word” event.
The Ritz Chamber Players
The Ritz Chamber Players , the nation’s first chamber music ensemble, brings a fresh, new energy to the classical music genre. Led by clarinetist Terrance Patterson, the Ritz Chamber Players include some of the most notable and accomplished musicians of our time. From Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky to today’s leading black composers, Singleton, Walker, Perkinson and Bonds, the Ritz Chamber Players are creating a revolution in the classical music scene.
University of North Florida Fine Arts Center
Combining precisely synchronized elements in creative design, acoustics and lighting, the University of North Florida Fine Arts Center >, where the Lazarra Hall is housed, sets the stage for international performers and serves as a teaching center for students. UNF also hosts comedians and other artists in its Arena and on two stages in the fine arts center.
Theaters & Outdoor Performing Venues
Community theater groups throughout Northeast Florida perform plays and musicals year-round. Become transformed with an evening of theater at the Alhambra Dinner Theater , Amelia Community Theater, Limelight Theater in St. Augustine, Orange Park Community Theater and Theatre Jacksonville in San Marco, among others.
There’s also an array of facilities for performing artists and festivals in the area. Set along 27 acres on the riverfront, Jacksonville’s Metropolitan Park serves as a setting for the Starry Night symphony series, Shakespeare at the Met and the annual Jazz Festival. The region’s coastal communities host festivals and offer many theaters and entertainment opportunities. The Sea Walk Pavilion in Jacksonville Beach is an elegant outdoor stage that lures residents with cool ocean breezes and a beautiful coastline.
Finally, celebrate Jacksonville’s downtown city life and river atmosphere with a pedestrian-friendly Art Walk featuring as many as 35 venues, live bands and trolleys. Sponsored by Downtown Vision, the event is held the first Wednesday of each month.
Officially opened in its new location in 2003 in Downtown Hemming Plaza with a new focus, the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (MOCAJ) also has the distinction of being designed by an award-winning design collaborative (a one-of-a-kind volunteer initiative not seen before or since the project) who converted the Art Deco, 1930s building into a city cultural landmark.
The museum offers a very active schedule of modern and contemporary art exhibitions that rotate every four months, and a hands-on, interactive center Art Explorium loft for families. Strictly focusing on exhibiting and collecting modern artwork since 1945, the museum’s permanent collection of about 800 works rotates every six months. Visit www.mocajacksonville.org for more information about the museum.
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is located on the St. Johns River in the Riverside/Avondale historic district and is just minutes from downtown. As the largest museum in Northeast Florida and the second largest art museum in the state, it’s noted for its collection of more than 6,000 masterworks of American and European paintings; two acres of beautiful, historic gardens in the European style; and an outstanding collection of Meissen porcelain. Art Connections is the museum’s nationally renowned interactive learning center and the museum recently unveiled the Thomas H. Jacobsen Gallery of American Art, the first new gallery to open since 1992. Visit www.cummer.org to see what’s coming up at the museum.
The Museum of Science & History (MOSH) offers fun for the whole family with the area’s only planetarium, an award-winning Northeast Florida history exhibit, a live animal area, daily interactive programs and much more. Learn more at www.themosh.org .
The Alexander Brest Museum and Gallery on the stately campus of Jacksonville University (JU) presents a feast for your eyes. The museum houses an outstanding Steuben Glass collection that spans two eras, and extensive Pre-Columbian, Chinese Porcelain Cloisonné and Ivory collections. The art gallery showcases changing exhibitions of students and faculty, as well as regional, national and international artists. JU also is home to one of only two glass blowing studios on a college campus in the South.
In 2005, the Jacksonville Public Library expanded to 21 locations to include the new 3,000-square foot Main Library and 20 branches. With this unprecedented growth, the Jacksonville Public Library has become one of the city’s most widely used attractions.
Located in downtown Jacksonville, the Main Library is uniquely identified by the public art sculpture, Wisdom. A 25-foot tall owl perched on a stack of books at the corner of Laura and Monroe Sts., Wisdom draws visitors to the library. The Main Library features Shelby’s Coffee Shoppe, the Booktique bookstore, colorful and bright children’s and teen areas, the Center for Adult Learning (adult literacy), the Talking Books Library for blind and disabled customers, an electronic computer classroom, an outdoor courtyard, additional public art and many special collection including the Ansbacher Map Room.
With more than three million materials and 2,000 public computers, the Jacksonville Public Library serves the more than four million visitors and checks out approximately eight million materials annually. The Jacksonville Public Library offers services for everyone including children’s story times and art programs, teen programming, a wide variety of cultural programming for adults and community meeting rooms.
Visit the www.jaxpubliclibrary.org or call 630-BOOK (2665) for more information about the library.