Words and images by Luke Barber
Standing charmingly modest on the edge of Riverside, CoRK Arts District harbors studio spaces for Jacksonville’s creative types in two massive warehouses, heavily tattooed with intricate graffiti.
Murals of Ray Charles, a snarling tiger head and a variety of abstract caricatures spot the exterior walls of the complex, attracting curious onlookers and photo-opportunists on a regular basis.
CoRK — which stands for “corner of Rosselle and King” — is headquartered at the intersection of the two busy streets, just before a series of train tracks that unintentionally fragment the west-of-downtown community.
Since its 2010 opening, countless artists have come and gone from CoRK — painters, photographers, fashion designers, writers, sculptors, musicians, performance artists; CoRK doesn’t exclusively provide space for one specific type of artist, but rather, it fosters an environment that is conducive to all creative production. Additionally, CoRK offers a gallery setting that is instrumental in getting artists’ names heard and their work purchased.
“Artists around other artists is the best way to get good — if not great — art,” said veteran screenprinter George Cornwell.
Blurring the line between work and play, there are currently over 70 artists that take advantage of the freedom and sanctuary found within the flamboyant building.
“I think Jacksonville is a place that has a whole amount of potential,” Cornwell said. “We have a lot of young artists here that, for some reason, have been forsaken. But actually it’s a very talented community.”
Sculptor Dolf James, the visionary and head-honcho behind CoRK, found the warehouse to be the perfect place for creative collaboration that would maximize artistic potential.
“When they opened up that door and I walked in, and I saw this room and I went ‘Oh man, this is what I dream about when I’m laying in bed at night trying to go to sleep — the dream studio,’” James said with a twinkle in his eye.
“Not that it hadn’t been done before, but one thing that CoRK did was bring these people together,” James said. “I can look at what 70 people are doing very quickly, and I’m very aware of where art is in Jacksonville and what level it’s at.”
James, a member of the Jacksonville-area art scene for nearly 20 years, teamed up with investment real estate developer Mac Easton to open up the building and bring more artists in. With the affordable rent and opportunity for progress that CoRK offers to artists, the empty studio spaces were filled almost instantaneously.
CoRK is just one of the warehouses in the area that have been repurposed by Easton, who saw the emerging Jacksonville art scene that lacked a physical, permanent home-base as a lucrative opportunity.
“I saw a lot of arts come into the marketplace,” Easton said. “[The artists] could have a home and it would be sustainable on branding on my end, where [the artists] could make it cool and it stays. The intention was to really come up with something that would work for the both of us.”
One other warehouse, which is located right across the street, was transformed into the Jacksonville staple Bold City Brewery.
Nearly half a mile south of CoRK lies the hipster mecca of Riverside. Restaurants like Kickbacks and Sweet Theory and the general allure of the alternative nightlife scene bring people from far and wide to the King St. watering holes like The Garage, Dahlia’s Pour House and Park Place.
While CoRK isn’t regularly open to the public, it does provide a venue for a variety of monthly events such as gallery openings, live music, yoga classes and sewing lessons. Upcoming events can be found on CoRK’s Facebook page.
Additionally, artists open their doors in November for Open Studio day. On this day, which only happens once a year, anybody can come to the warehouse free of charge to tour the facilities, interact with artists and purchase art.
“It’s very popular,” James said. “[Last year], we probably had somewhere between four or five thousand people come to Open Studio day.”