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Coffee shop conversations lead to crowdfunding event

Courtesy of One Spark.
Courtesy of One Spark.

One Spark Festival takes over downtown Jacksonville

“In a city that is nearly crippled by meetings and talking about meetings, and conducting studies on a series of meetings, these guys had a few meetings in coffee shops,” Executive Director of One Spark Joe Sampson said. “They did something that doesn’t happen nearly often enough. They took action.”

“These guys” are the One Spark founders: Elton Rivas, Dennis Eusebio, and Varick Rosete.

“One Spark is a massive undertaking,” Sampson said. It’s a five-day event, on April 9-13, spanning 20 blocks in Downtown Jacksonville.

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These blocks are filled with creator projects in art, innovation, music, and science and technology. One Spark is a crowdfunding event, so attendees can vote to decide which creators will receive funding. This year, it’s in the form of $310,000 in crowdfunds and cash rewards, $3.25 million in capital investments, and director contributions from 150,000 attendees.

“[It] is a platform for people of action,” Sampson said. This platform is especially important to Jacksonville. “Jacksonville is starved for people of action,” he said.

Sampson himself could be called a man of action. Sampson moved to Jacksonville to help a small event-production company.

Christine Holland. Photo by Noor Ashouri.
Christine Holland’s project, Comovation, aims to establish a mobile food truck in “food deserts.” Photo by Noor Ashouri.

“I discovered true passion for producing large-scale events,” Sampson said.

This passion translated to One Spark. Last year kicked off the first One Spark event, although planners didn’t really know what to expect.

“Heading into year one we let the event define itself,” Sampson said, “That was not a mistake.”

Over 130,000 attendees certainly doesn’t seem like a mistake. This year, creator projects increased by 56 percent.

Of these creators is Christine Holland, UNF senior instructor of communication studies, who was inspired by “Bud.” Bud had a fruit truck.

“When I grew up, there was a guy that had a converted school bus and he would drive around our neighborhood when I was a kid and sell fruits and vegetables,” Holland said. “When I’d be out playing, I’d put an extra 50 cents in my pocket and go buy some fruit.”

Holland attended One Spark last year and knew she wanted to be part of it. Her project, Comovation, aims to establish a mobile food truck in “food deserts” which are areas where it may be hard to get fresh fruits and vegetables.

Steve DeFord, another One Spark creator and anthropology and communication senior, said he has always been involved in a strange project on the side.

Steve DeFord's project, Students Mythbehaving, is a web-based TV show exploring local myth, folklore, and urban legend.
Steve DeFord’s project, Students Mythbehaving, is a web-based TV show exploring local myth, folklore, and urban legend.

His project, Students Mythbehaving, is a web-based TV show exploring local myth, folklore, and urban legend. But it isn’t some crazy ghost-chasing story, DeFord said. “We’re really telling story about the people — their beliefs, what they’ve been told growing up, and how that relates to their perception of the world.”

Although the event only lasts five days, Sampson said it takes a minimum of a nine to 10-month cycle to produce One Spark, but a cycle that seems well worth it.

One Spark has even found it’s way to a UNF classroom.

Ignite Media is an independent news bureau focused on forming a connection between the community and One Spark. It is part of a Social Media for Journalism class.

To be clear — this isn’t free public relations.

“The good, the bad, the ugly — we’re here for all of it,” said Brianna Sigman, managing editor for Ignite Media and communication junior. “We’re covering it from a journalistic standpoint.”

This vibrant display of patterns and colors strive to attract attention. Photo courtesy of One Spark.
This vibrant display of patterns and colors strive to attract attention. Photo courtesy of One Spark.

And the class isn’t just busy work, Sigman said. Students typically only spend half an hour physically in class. For the rest of class time they are out in the field.

“Out in the field” could refer to many things: stories about creators, the event, venues, and other aspects of One Spark or it could refer to social media activity on several outlets. Students use Tumblr to compile interviews about how much Jacksonville knows about One Spark.

“[One Spark]’s putting Jacksonville on the map,” said Luis Camejo, One Spark intern and business administration senior.

Camejo said working at One Spark keeps him on his toes, but there’s also a focus on collaboration. There are no dividers separating staff and interns in the One Spark office.

“If someone comes up with an idea, [they] just say it out loud,” Camejo said.

A white board in the office counts down the days until One Spark, creators, interns, students, and funders flood those 20 Jacksonville blocks. It keeps everyone on their toes, not just interns.

Email Noor Ashouri at [email protected]

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