The lasting impact of One Spark

In two short weeks, One Spark will be kicking off in Jacksonville. It seems, however, that it is One Spark in name only. This years event will be unlike any of the previous three. It has a new format, the length of the festival has been cut from six days to three, the festival itself is no longer putting up any money for the creators, the festival staff has been cut to a bare-bones crew, the event will only occupy a small fraction of the space the past three have, and perhaps the most damning fact of all: there are a mere 66 creator projects participating in the “Spark Walk,” down from last years 555.

One Spark was much more than a technology or art festival. It was a celebration of Jacksonville, that happened to have some startups and artists thrown in. It was about something more. It was about the community of creators, of all walks and disciplines. More than 320,000 descended on downtown Jacksonville last year. These were 320,000 everyday people who wanted to take part in a festival. Not 320,000 tech enthusiasts, reporters, investors, or the other groups that show up to tech events throughout the year.

Over the three years that we covered the event, we had the chance to see its impact on Jacksonville. The first year, 2013, Hemming Plaza – one of the main locations of One Spark – was full of bums, and nearly the whole of downtown was vacant high-rise buildings. While a huge number of people came out to the inaugural event, the average attendee didn’t really have any idea what it was all about; it was just a huge festival.

Not that One Spark was the only reason, but the city of Jacksonville changed dramatically over the past three years. Last year, the city was full of life. I spoke with a woman who was somewhere north of 70 years old that said she had lived in the city her whole life. During her life, she said, she had never seen the city more alive or more vibrant than during One Spark.

We were there from the very beginning, with TechFaster for the first two years, and with Nibletz last year. It has been a wild journey, and it saddens me to say that it turns out that last year was our final year covering the event. Although I am positive that Elton Rivas and the other founders of the event would have liked to see it go on as it was, they have made an incredibly positive impact on Jacksonville. Though One Spark will no longer be the same, the event has shown how a city can pull together and become a real community.