JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Every Saturday morning beneath the Fuller Warren Bridge, crowds trickle among the booths and food trucks scattered throughout the shady underpass.
As the wind provides a cool breeze, music drifts through the air and adds to the ambience of the scene.
For nearly a decade now, citizens of Jacksonville have frequented the weekly Riverside Arts Market, where customers can purchase fresh produce, discover local businesses, and listen to live music from local artists. According to the organization’s website, the arts market is a six-time winner of the Best of Jacksonville Award for Best Farmers’ Market presented by Folio Weekly and has been recognized in many publications, such as USA Today. But it took time for the market to achieve the status that it enjoys today.
“The market was started 10 years ago by Wayne Wood, a historian and eye doctor who also started the Riverside Avondale Preservation, which is what RAM is a part of,” said Elizabeth Grebe, the market manager for the Riverside Arts Market. “Wayne goes to Portland and sees this market that was on a Saturday underneath a bridge. He was just there for a vacation and he thought it was really cool. There were jugglers, craftsmen, farmers, things like that.”
After obtaining the idea to bring a local market to the Jacksonville area, Wood began talking with an engineer who was working on the construction of the Fuller Warren Bridge, and who also happened to be a patient. Once Wood was able to convince the Florida Department of Transportation – who was in charge of the bridge’s construction – and city officials to dedicate landscaping funds underneath the bridge to host the market, he then created a group that would spend the next decade devising the arts market until its opening day on April 4, 2009.
“It has grown and changed several times over the last decade,” Grebe said. “RAM started as April through December from 10 am to 4 pm. Then the next year they decided to start it in March, so it was a very seasonal market. John [Silveira, senior market manager] and I came on about two years ago and took the opportunity to work with our artists and makers and what they wanted to see with the future of the market, and lots of people wanted to go full year and bring it down to a five-hour market, so now we’re in our second year of operating as a 52-week market from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.”
Despite its time changes over the past few years, the Riverside Arts Market has stayed consistent in providing produce and multiple arts media to the public, although it took several years for the market to become a “producers-only” farmers’ market – meaning the focus is on farmers, not retailers, selling produce. Mass manufactured items are not sold, either.
Among the many different types of businesses presented at the market, some have been with the market for many years while others are just making their presence known. Denise Sawyer-Johnson, a local artist, recently celebrated her second exhibition at the market.
“Early March was my first time,” she said. “I’ve only been painting for two years. My main medium is acrylic, and I do mixed media. I really worked every day, just organizing pricing, updating a few pieces to make them look even better. You’re not finished with an art piece until you sell it.”
And new artists and makers are definitely making their mark at RAM. Every weekend, according to downtownjacksonville.org, more than 4,000 people visit the market and discover what it has to offer.
“My mom and I love going to the Riverside Arts Market,” said Jenna Thompson, a freshman communications major at Jacksonville University. “We make sure we take time out of each month to spend quality time with each other down there. My favorite part of the arts market is seeing all the different artist and creations. There is so much talent in Jacksonville, and it’s like you get a taste of every type of art in one area.”
With its current success, organizers say RAM’s future looks bright, including expanding its presence and taking on more artists and makers.
“John and I want this market to be a huge community market,” Grebe said. “We invite non-profits, we invite everyone to be a part of it. We know we constantly have to be changing things – different special events, finding different organizations to host their events with us. We make sure that the market is never stale.”