PerspectivesSherry Magill Jacksonville Today Contributor

OPINION | ‘Multimedia stimulation’ at Riverfront Plaza?

Published on June 13, 2024 at 6:05 pm
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Good thing we recently bulldozed the oaks living at Hogan Street and Independent Drive to accommodate the former Landing site’s under-construction community services building and children’s playground. The live oaks’ location would have interfered with our projecting images onto the Performing Arts Center, an entertainment idea brought to us by Downtown Investment Authority.

Whether this local effort fits the exact definition of “projection mapping”—turning objects and building facades into video display surfaces—apparently projecting images onto outdoor surfaces is all the rage the world over.

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DIA joined the party in March 2023, authorizing $2 million to purchase film projection equipment to be installed at “Riverfront Plaza,” with the expressed purpose of projecting a “multi-media production show consisting of synchronized visuals, lights and sound . . . nightly” onto the Performing Arts Center’s eastern facade.

screenshot from DIA March 2023 workshop

Capitalizing on the St. Johns

In justifying this decision, staff and board members claim nightly riverfront multimedia shows will help us capitalize on the “aesthetic beauty of the St. Johns River” and “maximize interactive and recreational opportunities . . . to create waterfront experiences unique to Downtown.”

Wonder why the St. Johns’ natural “aesthetic beauty” isn’t enough? Do we need this distraction, these human-produced artificial images projected onto a building facade, drawing our eyes and ears away from the river?

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Psychologists tell us we are in desperate need of a deep connection to Mother Nature’s majestic beauty, that we spend too little time appreciating the outdoors unencumbered by human-made inventions. Yet, when presented with the opportunity to develop this connection in historic Downtown Jacksonville, we simply cannot help ourselves. We must project images of our own making in what otherwise could be a natural nighttime setting. No wonder we are the crazy species, our consciousness constantly bombarded by human-produced video, light and sound. Heaven forbid we be able to enjoy the stars. The ones in the sky.

Questions abound

Since DIA’s decision is now a fait accompli, one wonders who gets to decide what images will assault our collective consciousness on a nightly basis? What criteria will they establish? Will full-length movies be permitted?

Beyond the projectors themselves, what exactly will be required to mount the projectors? How tall? How wide? Where located? Who will design it?

When exactly will someone in charge recognize that whatever houses the expensive film projectors—a fixed “tower”—no doubt will further junk up open space the public has been promised. Not to mention the four buildings scheduled for the former Landing site.

Sunshine State

Look on the sunny side: If full-length movies are permitted, John Sayles’ 2002 Sunshine State should get first showing.

Filmed a generation ago in Fernandina and American Beach, Sunshine State explores local governments’ determination to commercially develop pretty much every inch of our natural landscape, pitting local small businesses and homeowners against economic forces they cannot control because their elected officials know the “price of everything, the value of nothing.”

It’s a never-ending Florida story, though Sunshine State’s comically absurd closing frame suggests we might make other public choices if we had the foresight to imagine where our insatiable commercial developers’ appetite will take us.

If only.


This column appears in partnership with the JaxLookout.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor Sherry Magill founded the JaxLookout in 2018 to reflect on local issues and encourage local citizens to engage as she was retiring from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund presidency, ending a 27-year career in private philanthropy. During her tenure, Magill spearheaded the development of the defunct Haydon Burns Library into the Jessie Ball duPont Center, a nationally recognized nonprofit and philanthropic center. Sherry currently chairs the Local Initiatives Support Corporation-Jacksonville (LISC) advisory committee and the Charles F. Kettering Foundation board and serves as member of the board of directors of Virginia-based Locus Bank.

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