There is a high probability that you are on a first name basis with Shawana Brooks if you are involved in Jacksonville's creative community. Even if you do not know her by name, chances are you have seen Shawana in attendance at events that serve Jacksonville's arts and culture sector. No matter what the scale or location of an event, Shawana is someone who is always impecibly dressed. At such events, you will notice Shawana's warm smile as she fondly greets someone with whom she is acquanted, which is by no means a short list of individuals.
Shawana radiates creativity. She is a poet, storyteller, and devout advocate for the arts. As an advocate, Shawana passionately campaigns for progression of not only the arts and culture sector, but the city at large, by way of inclusion of both women and minorities.
As a profession, Shawana works for the Jacksonville Public Library (JPL). She is the Arts and Culture Developer and part of a team of individuals that oversees the Jax Makerspace (JMS), which is located on the first floor of the library's Main branch. If you are unfamiliar with the term makerspace, a makerspace is a collaborative space where people can gather to create, invent, and learn, which is why a public library is an optimal location for such a valuable community resource.
Shawana also is a guest contributor to the Cummer Museum of Art and Garden's blog.
10 Questions with Shawana Brooks
What do you feel are unique attributes to Jacksonville’s arts and culture sector and the creative community that compose Jacksonville?
The most unique thing, I feel, about our city is the arts community. Though we can be isolated at times, or stay in our “tribes,” we do connect to others outside our disciplines. I see visual artists collaborating with musicians and writers, writers connecting with dancers and videographers, etc. It’s why I like being involved with the group, Cultural Fusion.
Through Cultural Fusion, you can connect and collaborate with other cultural institutions to create something that’s never been done before. You don’t have to take on every big project by yourself. There is a lot of talent to go around.
We should be taking the temperature of the community to see what they are passionate about, then we should support it fully. Currently, my favorite question to ask someone is, “How can the Library help you make your creation today?”
What is the Jax Makerspace and what benefits is it providing to the residents of Jacksonville?
The Jacksonville Public Library (JPL) Makerspace is a place for making things - from movies to music, art to apps, robots to radios, novels to needlepoint. It’s a place for anyone interested in hands-on opportunities to explore, collaborate and create, whether you are a novice or an expert, a student, hobbyist, inventor, entrepreneur, or artist.
A major benefit is that the Library is interested in having the public shape this space. We are interested in developing strong partnerships with individuals and organizations. Through these relationships, we aim to align resources to community interests with the outcome of strengthening the programs we offer the community. It’s a unique and fantastic experiment. Who knows what we will see in the next six months!
Is Jax Makerspace currently collaborating with, or seeking to collaborate with, any individuals or organizations? If yes, what do you look for in collaborative partners?
Oh yes, all the time! Part of our vision is to explore, collaborate, and create. I love my job and the fact that my role specifically requires me to look for partnerships and establish connections with the visual and performing arts.
What the Library looks for in partners, and our partners can be local artists, creators, businesses, and cultural organizations, are those who identify with the Library’s vision and are interested in being part of this new and unique incubation space. We like to view our partners as Makerspace Ambassadors. More and more, we are forming connections that exemplify this.
We are looking to placemake the Library as one of the premier Arts and Culture places in the city. The Library has always been the place to explore content (books and other library materials). This space takes content engagement to a new level for people creating and collaborating at the Library.
Can you name another place in our city that everyday is accessible and FREE to the public? A place where you can create, collaborate, and then explore any subject your heart desires? I’ll wait...
Jax Makerspace recently exhibited the photography work of Matt Colaciello. Are there plans to exhibit more artists in the upcoming calendar year? If yes, how can interested artists submit their portfolios for consideration?
The Library does a spectacular job of showing art in many of its 21 locations around the city, and in particular at the Main branch. Examples of this are the beautiful mural and map room on the 4th floor and the Art in Public Placesphoto collection on the conference level. We also currently have an exhibit of Quilts on our 2nd and 3rd floors.
There are spaces on the 2nd and 3rd floors at the Jacksonville Public Library Main that are available for applicants to exhibit. Individuals interested in exhibiting can review our policies related to exhibition.
The Jax Makerspace Gallery has a different purpose. This space is curated by the library to offer specific programming that relates to the identified goals or programming tracks of the Jax Makerspace. We expect to have ongoing exhibits in the Jax Makerspace Gallary that come from local artists who will come in and create art at their leisure during our operating hours. We've had great attendance at our workshops and the programs we've offered to date.
Look for much more to come in the new year!
What do you take away from working in, and being a part of, Jacksonville’s downtown core?
I love working Downtown! Love, love, love it! Stepping outside during the peak hours makes me feel connected to the City.
The majority of my meetings are held in the Core. I like that most of the people I interact with, regarding arts and culture, work downtown. I run into someone everyday! Jacksonville University (JU) will have a new space downtown soon, new housing for FCSJ students, galleries and more improvements, making Downtown a destination place.
I am excited about proposed plans to expand the JTA Skyway. Plus, who doesn't love the eateries. Sweet Pete's is across the street! Seeing the food trucks and hearing the live singing from Hemming Park at lunch time. People walking to City Hall. Hustling and bustling all along Laura with cute retail shops. It's a Cultural Corner!
One of my favorite things is to walk around downtown and enter a building I've never been in. There are tons. The architecture, the art, the river! It can be profound. But I also count the empty buildings when I'm on these walks. With the businesses that have left recently, I have heard that not enough foot traffic on evenings and weekends was the reasoning.
I'd love to live downtown, but the housing isn't conducive for my husband and I as artists. We live in Murray Hill and have a studio at CoRK Arts District. I hope in the future to see more artist live/workplaces, along with public art projects that showcase the full scope of what this city has to offer.
The Library aims to support local artists and create opportunities for collaboration. There is an abundance of talent here in Duval County and the surrounding areas. Our skilled Library staff have the knowledge to help in a wide range of research. The Library is a community destination space – offering unique opportunities for creation, collaboration, and exploration. Artists are social innovators. They can add even more value to Downtown if we can create ways to resource their talents.
The year is coming to an end. What do you feel are some notable accomplishments or victories for Jacksonville’s arts and culture sector during 2016 that deserve to be highlighted? Additionally, transitioning to 2017, what would you like to see occur in the new year?
There were many things! The reopening of Willow Branch Library, The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Open, The Cummer Ball, CoRK Open Studios, Jordan Schnitzer Foundation Print Collection at MOCA, Calli Marie's debut cookbook, and The Ritz Theatre and La Villa Museum's annual exhibition, Through Our Eyes are just a few.
I also had a great time at theCultural Council of Greater Jacksonville's Arts Awards last May! The Culture Council puts on an artful event and I'm delighted by the MUSE theme for next year. I like to think of myself as a Muisance (Muse + Nuisance). I can't take the credit for the name, that was given to me by my friend, Overstreet Ducasse, but the attitude is all mine. I will have to think of a great outfit for this year's gala event (no pressure).
But the most celebrated and impacting exhibition we had come through this city is "LIFT: Contemporary Expressions of An African American Experience." The Cummer Museum saw many new faces come into their museum this year, and the collaboration with the Ritz Theatre & Museam was a great way to highlight both community resources. It was nationally recognized and there is still a little over a month left to go and see it. February 12th is the closing date and I hope the whole community comes out to congratulate all the artists and to LIFT off this art that literally changed my life, and the lives of others that have been involved with the show.
Outside of your profession how has arts and culture impacted your life and why do you feel access to the arts and culture is important?
It's hard for me to discern between the two. I'm immersed in the arts 24/7. My husband is a professional artist. It is what he does to feel alive and make his living.
He is asked daily what other job he works to earn a living. Being a visual artist gets treated as if it's a hobby instead of a lifestyle. Is he selling paintings everyday ? Not yet, but he is getting a stronger following and commissioning of new pieces. He's found a way to keep innovating his creations.
I see how being nurtured, instead of simply exposed, has affected him. I want that opportunity for every artist. Artists shouldn't have to justify why they should be taken seriously. This is their chosen occupation, just as the person who becomes a doctor made the conscious decision to pursue that as a profession.
I'm not at all saying the two professions are the same, it’s more about respect for arts as a profession, and art does save lives too. Across all disciplines, artists are some of the hardest workers I know. Due to their passion, they stay up until the wee hours of the morning - working on their creations. This is part of the life of an artist.
Clearly most of us love art, but not always the artists that are responsible for creating the art. I believe that mindset needs to be reset. Communication and understanding is the key to bridging that narrative.
How does Jax Makerspace engage diverse audiences, and how can interested individuals stay informed about programming offered through Jax Makerspace?
Jacksonville Public Library is “open to all”, just as it says at the top of the building on Laura St. The Library takes great pride in serving all people, as they say, from cradle to grave. Go to the Jax Makerspace's website for lots of great information. You can also follow Jax Makerspace on Facebook (@jaxmakerspace), where you’ll find informative posts, videos, and and daily Makerspace events.
Matt Colaciello will be having a panel discussion in conjunction with his photo collection on display in the Jax Makerspace Gallery, located on the first floor in the Main Library. It will be held January 14th from 3:00p-5:00p. This program is specifically provided for engagement with the artist/educator.
One of the requirements for using the Makerspace as the backdrop for programming is that it has to be accessible and open to the public. All are invited and welcome to hear this artist led conversation, “The Climate is Changing. Are You?” There will be a question and answer portion and if you have a difference of opinion, of course that is welcome at the library – a institution that does not take stances on issues, but rather provides information and a discussion space for the community. The Library has books on display in our JMS Gallery that speak to the exhibition and seek to educate those with questions about our environment.
You’ve previously contributed wonderful long-format essays to the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens’ blog. Are you still writing? If yes, where can individuals read your work?
Thank you for that compliment and for reading. They are wordy. I like words so I don't mind.
You are right, essays is the most proper name for them. I am currently still writing. The most recent entry on Dustin Harewood came out on December 20th. This is the fourth essay I've written and I have six more to go before LIFT comes down (February 12th).
Being The ACD (another name I call myself) has kept me from writing as fast as I'd like. But I love the challenge. For now, being a guest contributor will have to do. If the responsiveness continues I am thinking of turning them into a coffee table book of essays, personal reflections, and pictures from the exhibition. I know the Jax Makerspace will be able to help me with that.
I love feedback and encourage constructive criticism. We have successful writing programs in place right now at Jax Makerspace. I think developing a critiquing writer’s group would be helpful to other writers, as well as myelf.
Events like JAX by JAX, where authors have the opportunity to showcase their work, are incredibly inspiring. March 25, 2017 is our Jax Book Fest. JPL is looking for exhibitors, and space is limited, so submit your application ASAP!
Lift Every Voice,” are words written by James Weldon Johnson. It is also the current theme of Cultural Fusion, which aims to advance collaboration among the arts and cultural organizations in Jacksonville. As an African American women, what does diversity and inclusion mean to you?
I'm excited that the theme is continuing. Collaborating is my jam! It's a great way to introduce programming for the Library, like our LIFT Off series we're developing. It's important that we continue to lift voices around our community. We can start at the Library and then go anywhere because libraries are safe spaces to curate these discussions.
I actually don't identify as African American. I'm more comfortable being referred to as Black. But nobody asked because we rarely do. "Curiosity over judgment" is one of my mottos. I get that and don't take offense.
I do think it's important to understand identity and what that spectrum looks like. I do identify as female. But I know others don't. I think it's important for everyone to feel comfortable expressing themselves and whatever titles. Why we need labels, outside of our individual names, will be one of the topics discussed in an upcoming exhibition along with our Jax Reads/NEA Big Read selection, "The Namesake," by author Jhumpa Lahiri. For those of you involved in reading circles and social book clubs around town, this is an excellent novel to introduce into your group.
"KESHA: A Black Female Experience of Identity and Race" will debut in the Jax Makerspace Gallery February 1, 2017. It will feature 13 regional black female artists of different art disciplines. The opening will be on the evening of February Artwalk (2/1/17). If you want to know more about the JPL's programming for this upcoming exhibit, or you have any additional inquiries, please follow the Jax Makerspace on Facebook. Or better yet, just stop by and see us at the Main Library!