Laura and Matthew Bennett met while enrolled as undergraduates at Pennsylvania State University. Upon graduating college, Laura began her 20 year career in the Navy. Laura and Matthew were stationed in Jacksonville four times during her Naval service. During each tour, Matthew worked in the arts and exhibited his work in galleries throughout Northeast Florida, The Cummer Museum, and Art Walk. In 2009-2010 Matthew partnered with Downtown Vision for Off the Grid, a now defunct program that utilized vacant buildings to provide artists with cost effective gallery and studio space.
The Bennetts moved to Japan in 2010 and returned to Jacksonville for their final Navy tour in 2013. When they returned, they noticed that the arts community had partially shifted their focus away from downtown. The Bennetts had a desire to rekindle past efforts to establish downtown as a central location for the arts community. In October 2016, Matthew partnered with Margie Seaman to establish the inaugural location for Seaman's Building Art Program (BAP). Seaman sees Jacksonville as a potential incubator city for artists. Seaman works to pair artists with owners, landlords, or brokers of vacant buildings that are available for sale or lease through the BAP.
Seaman first developed BAP in New York City in 1997. The program was implemented in Jacksonville with an initial focus on vacant buildings on East and West Forsyth Street. BAP is guided by the belief that:
With the assistance of BAP, the Bennetts co-founded The Space Gallery, a contemporary art gallery located at 120 E Forsyth Street. Since its opening, The Space Gallery has hosted six exhibits, which include: Holding Space; F/6: A Focus on Photography; A Fine Line; Easement; A More Perfect Union: Explorations of Human Rights; and The Crucifixion of Self. Through these exhibits the Bennetts have showcased the work of 40 artists in the short time that The Space Gallery has been in operation.
Laura retired from the Navy as a Lieutenant Commander in May 2016. In addition to running The Space Gallery with her husband, Laura is a certified nurse-midwife and new entrepreneur. She owns a consultation and training business that focuses on mindfulness, reducing workplace burnout, and achieving healthcare excellence.
10 Questions with Laura Bennett
What is the mission of your organization?
Our mission is to highlight regional artists through a thoughtfully curated gallery and to elevate and stimulate the growth of the arts in the Urban Core. We work to build partnerships and a collaborative community. We intend to make a place for Jacksonville on the map of national recognized cities of the arts.
When was your organization formed and how has it grown?
The Space Gallery was organized in October 2016 through the Building Art Program (BAP). This program provides us the opportunity to use 120 E. Forsyth St. to showcase the arts while the property is for sale or lease. 120 E. Forsyth St. is the premier location for the program.
We received the keys to the long vacant property on October 3, 2016 and opened as a gallery 3 ½ weeks later. We have experienced an overwhelming, positive response since our first exhibit launch on October 28, 2016. Our initial growth has been tremendous. We have the excitement of the community behind us and have had hundreds of people attend our openings. Many people have shared their thanks with us for filling a void by providing something that was missing, yet much needed, in Jacksonville.
What strategies are in place within your organization for you to engage your audiences?
We use Facebook, Instargam, and Twitter, along with email, our website, and word-of-mouth to reach our audience. We create opportunities for engagement through exhibit openings, curator and artist talks, meet and greets, performances, and private events. We are connecting with other organizations to explore how we can provide more opportunities to the community.
Why is art and culture important?
It is well known that cities with diversity and a vibrant, sustainable arts community are more economically robust, as well as more satisfying to live and work in. Arts communities attract young professionals and tourists. It is important to stimulate an arts culture by promoting arts exposure and appreciation from a young age. Providing students with opportunities for experiences outside of the classroom in art museums and galleries foster creativity, innovative thinking, and a fund of knowledge that creates a competitive edge in students, as well as a city that develops a talent pool and arts appreciation from within.
What’s your organization’s next major milestone and is this milestone part of a long-term plan?
Due to the nature of the BAP, our next art exhibit is always our next milestone. We have to plan with short-term goals so that we can move when the property is sold or leased. We are currently exploring the feasibility of continuing The Space Gallery in a long-term location within the Urban Core.
What would you like to see in the arts and cultural community in Jacksonville?
We’d like to see full and intentional engagement of art collectors, businesses, investors, and philanthropists with a commitment to supporting independent organizations like ours, Jacksonville artists at large, and the overall growth of the arts in Jacksonville. We need to work together to find the most innovative approaches for growth in the Urban Core.
Does your organization partner with other organization(s)?
Yes, we do. We have collaborated with Downtown Vision, Volcom, and Burger Records to host musical events. We have also collaborated with political organizations to host campaign events. Recently we partnered with Hope McMath for the "A More Perfect Union: Explorations of Human Rights" exhibit and associated programming.
What is a program offered by your organization that you’d like to highlight? Additionally, what is an organization that you think more people need to know about?
Regrettably, we do not offer regular programs. We would like to offer programs together with schools and independent arts organizations. However, we cannot make commitments due to the temporary nature of our location and the BAP.
They are not arts organizations, however, I think people should know about the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Senior Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). I’d like to see the SBA and SCORE develop programs specifically related to the arts. This is something I intend to pursue.
How do you stay up to date with the art and cultural happenings both nationally and in Jacksonville?
Jacksonville Arts Initiative, the web, and other artists.
How can others get involved with your organization?