Did you know that Jacksonville was almost Los Angeles?
Yes, my Jacksonville was once known as “Winter Film Capital of the World.” In 1910, the city reveled in its golden age when silent movie stars rubbed shoulders with business tycoons at swanky hotels and clubs at the beach. It was all very Gatsby for a while.
Sadly the effects of urban sprawl, various world wars and countless other factors sapped much of the sparkle from the city over the course of the past hundred years. And Hollywood took all the movie stars away, too.
Not to say we haven’t had highlights since then (Molly Hatchet, anyone?), but it’s long been accepted that Jacksonville is home to many dreamers but perhaps not enough doers.
Last week, One Spark, dubbed as the World’s Crowdfunding Festival, took place for the second time downtown, and it was an absolute raging hit. More than 250,000 people packed downtown’s streets & buildings – more than we had during the Super Bowl in 2005 and double the attendees of One Spark 2013. WHAT?!
This kind of participation is unheard of in Jacksonville. So what’s it all about?
From the One Spark website:
One Spark is a five-day event for Creators. From April 9 – 13, 2014, artists, entrepreneurs and innovators will display Projects in a 20-square-block, multi-Venue gallery in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. One Spark is about connecting people with great ideas to the resources they need to make them a reality. It’s the community behind great ideas. It’s your chance to submit and decide on the next big thing. It’s the opportunity to get involved, be inspired, connect and collaborate.
One Spark, Inc. is a nonprofit organization working to foster an environment of innovation. It was created in 2011 by three friends (Elton Rivas, Dennis Eusebio, and Varick Rosete) who wanted to connect ideas with resources.
The 5-day event, which essentially takes over Downtown, puts Creators – 610 musicians, inventors, non-profits, etc. – in the path of hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for their ideas. Regular Joes like me wander around meeting these Creators, experiencing their prototypes, apps, songs and ideas, interacting as they share their visions.
Then it’s up to the crowd to vote for the projects they like, and contribute to the pool of money if they so desire.
I was overwhelmed by One Spark the moment I stepped off the Skyway. Where to go first? Which Creators to check out? How to connect with projects I’d like? It took me four days to get the hang of the event and I never came close to seeing even an admirable fraction of Creators. I eventually began voting for anyone who asked – I figured if they had the gumption to get out there on the streets and pass out fliers or talk to me about their dream, I could spare a vote. (Submitted easily via text message.)
I can’t say I’ve ever had a reason to go downtown more than once a month, and during One Spark I was there every day. I learned so much about my city and its residents. We have some seriously kind-hearted folks who care about people (Buildings for Orphans in Haiti and Kid Keemo – Cancer Hero for Kids) and critters (Catty Shack Ranch‘s Fur-Ever Home Fund & the Friends of Jacksonville Animals Mobile Adoption Unit.)
Not to mention the smart technologies, the farm-to-table concepts, the new aquariums and let’s not forget, the musicians! So many projects deserved a vote & contributions. (See the results here.)
The full impact One Spark has on the city can’t be quantified. Sure, we can talk about how much money was distributed, how many votes were cast, how many beers were sold or how many folks rode the SkyWay for the first time. (Jacksonville bucket list, check!)
But there’s more to it than that. If you’re from a place where city life is the focal point – say, NYC, Philadelphia or DC – you might not understand. Here in sprawling Jacksonville, the largest city in the U.S. by land area, there’s been an ongoing struggle for years to bring our once vibrant downtown back to life.
The immeasurable value of One Spark isn’t just in the festival itself, but also in the slow, deliberate image change needed to once again make JAX a bustling hub where people – dreamers and doers – can live, start a business and be successful.
So what’s next? One Spark is going global, hosting a satellite event in Berlin. It will be wonderful, I have no doubt. But I confess, expansion gives me pause…
When a concept like this explodes too fast, there can be a tendency for it to go down the path of profit vs. the path that makes the most sense from a brand perspective. I hope that One Spark will not grow so large that it becomes unwieldy or more about sponsored food villages & beer. It’s the grassroots, hometown feel that makes One Spark so compelling. More sponsorship & corporate participation ideally would add to the $ pot available to Creators, but I hope in ensuing years, expansion continues thoughtfully.
Now, while I think One Spark is unbelievably valuable for inventors, initiatives and non-profits, I think it’s probably less so for bands & musicians. The musicians who provide the bulk of the free entertainment to those 250,000 participants probably give a lot more than they get. (While the Venues who host musicians rake in the cash made in drinks and food.)
One band I followed played 12 shows in 5 days. It ended up costing them all money, since they had to miss work, pay to park every day and of course, eat pricey (and so delicious) food truck food for 5 days. This particular band ended up with about $50 from the crowd funding pot… that comes to about $1 per band member per show.
Is that worth getting out of bed for? Financially, no.
The value for bands is always going to be in the potential exposure — NOT in the potential for crowd funding dollars. With some planning and a little marketing savvy, any one of the bands who played One Spark could take the momentum from last week and run with it. But will they?
And speaking of music… not to sound like a fuddy duddy, but this is one noisy event! I love live music, but I love to hear one act at a time, clearly and without interruption. It was total cacophony in places, with artists in earshot on every corner.
I loved the fun vibe of the event, but I did feel for the musicians playing outdoors who competed with one another for eardrums and audience share. It was tough for me to discern if I liked So-and-So’s jams when I could hear Such-and-Such’s banjo loudly in the other ear. Not a complaint, but perhaps a thought about spreading folks out next year.
The cool thing about One Spark is there’s a little something for everyone. Entrepreneurs and business nerds like me are inspired by the innovation and the shared creativity; some folks are there to listen to a hundred bands they’ve never heard; still others just want to drink craft beers and sample gourmet food truck fare.
I went Downtown last night for a dinner party, just two days after One Spark’s closing ceremony, and there was no sign that the event had ever happened. The streets were quiet and traffic-free after working hours.
What remains is the energy. The memory that 250,000+ people have about that one time they had fun Downtown.
I think we’re on to something, Jacksonville.