"Light Up The Darkness..."
- Bob Marley -
I'm quite certain that Robert Nesta Marley was not talking about a Lantern Parade when he uttered those words. But he was most certainly using light and darkness as metaphors to say - we can all do better and promote positivity. When Harry Dixon Loes wrote "This Little Light of Mine", the sentiments were the same. Whatever light or positivity or goodness you have within you - let it shine, shine, shine... let it shine.
Perhaps, then, it's no surprise that light had the same inspirational impression on Joseph White - Publisher and Editor in Chief of Jacksonville Magazine when he visited the Atlanta Lantern Parade in 2017. Looking to bring something new, different, and unprecedented to Jacksonville, he decided to see what the appeal of the parade was all about. Once he saw it, you could say a lightbulb went off, and he decided to produce a similar event here in the River City. Pair that with the initiative of raising money for art supplies and equipment and he had the blueprints for a delightful occasion.
Despite a few seemingly disastrous setbacks, 2018's Lantern Parade was a huge success, and this year is anticipated to be even better. In the weeks leading up to the parade - which is set for Saturday, February 16 - there have been multiple lantern making workshops held at various venues around town. People are encouraged to use their creativity to design their own lanterns or light-giving apparatuses and then join in the parade instead of merely watching from the sidelines. The parade route runs from the Riverside Artist Square under the Fuller Warren Bridge and continues down the St. Johns River to the Jacksonville Landing. The Parade itself begins at 7 PM and concludes with a Downtown fireworks show at 9 PM.
This week we got the chance to speak with Joe and learn about the history of the parade, the motivations behind it, and where we can expect to see its light spread next.
Welcome, Joe! Please introduce yourself to our readers...
My name is Joseph White and I'm the publisher and editor-in-chief Jacksonville Magazine. My wife Emily and I have two kids Celia, 14, and Griffin, 10. I was born in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky 51 years ago (raised as an Army brat). I graduated in 1990 from Flagler College with a degree in commercial art. I also have two cats Wallace and Davis that we rescued from under our former house in Avondale.
How long have you been living and working in Jacksonville?
My first real job (by that I mean career-oriented) out of college was working at Folio Weekly. It was part time post and I helped out in both the art and editorial departments. I also wrote the magazine’s personal classified ads (you know, men seeking women and vice versa). People would call or write in and ask me to make them appear “more attractive” in print. Those ads were my introduction to writing. - Really, it’s true. I still have my 1992 W-2 Earning Summary framed and hanging on a wall in my office. My gross pay that year was $14,730.79. Living the dream.
I moved to Jacksonville Magazine after about four years. My initial role was as assistant editor - I wrote short articles, proofread stories... did what else needed doing. Fast-forward a few years and I became the editor and eventually publisher as well. I tell people I had to do both jobs because everybody better than me left for other jobs. I purchased the company from the founding publisher, a guy name Jim White (absolutely no relation to me, weird huh?) in 2007 and I've owned it ever since. Until such time as someone makes me a can’t-refuse offer... Anybody?
Jacksonville Magazine has been in existence since 1983 and was started with the mission of connecting the community to the lifestyle and culture within it. What other initiatives or causes does the publication support or promote?
To be complete would require a lengthy answer. Here’s the short one. I recently wrote an editor’s column for Jacksonville Magazine, basically saying that the publication needs to be more than just a good read each month. We have to be involved in the city in which we work and live. Not politically, per se. There are lots of folks doing that. But by actively participating in community discussions and assisting various charitable causes through sponsorships, fundraisers and editorial content. Our events (such as the Great Chefs Dinner Series) all have a charitable component or some other larger purpose, something more than just a wonderful meal on a given night. We can provide entertainment and do good at the same time - seems like a win-win to me.
What inspired you to organize the Jax Lantern Parade and why did you choose the theme of a lantern parade to help raise awareness and funds to support Jacksonville area arts education?
We have hosted all sorts of events for many years, the largest being capped at 500 guests. I always wanted to undertake something larger, but different. The city has lots of music festivals, beer festivals and the like. Which is great, but I wanted to bring something new. I was aware of various lantern festivals or light-themed events happening in other cities. I decided to attend the Atlanta Lantern Parade in 2017 to see what it was all about. I ended up bringing the whole family with me (cats too) because it was the same September weekend Hurricane Irma hit Jax. I was blown away with the event, and thought how amazing it would be do something similar here. Particularly because of the setting we can provide, specifically the Northbank Riverwalk leading from the Riverside Arts Market park to Downtown. At night the view is amazing, with the skyline lights, the water of the St. Johns, boats floating by.... We have to do it, I figured.
Combining it with a charitable cause seemed natural. As an old art student, I figured a goal of raising money for art equipment and supplies was a perfect fit. After all, the whole event is about creativity. Literally thousands of individuals (I hope) will be making their own lanterns or something else that lights up to bring to the parade. And the “parade” concept was so appealing to me. Anyone can come and be a part of it, walk the path with the bands, join in the fun, and not just watch from the sidelines. You can be in it. There’s no ticket to buy. It’s free. Just bring something that glows or shines.
2018 marked the inaugural lantern parade event. What was the overall response to and impact of the event? Did you reach or exceed the goals that were set for the project?
The initial date for last year’s event had to be cancelled because of bad weather. A severe storm blew through that afternoon. Paper lanterns and high winds and rain don’t mix well, as you might imagine. We were able to reschedule for two weeks later, which was both good and bad. Good because we were able to secure a new date so fast. Bad because the new date was right in the middle of many school spring breaks. Also, many of the groups and bands that were planning to attend weren’t able to because of the date change. And, as luck would have it, it poured the day of our new date. It rained all day, until about 2 PM. But we had to go ahead and do it. There wasn’t another suitable date for at least another month. Honestly, I didn’t think anybody was going to come.
But they did. We estimate about 2,000 people showed up. Think of that - 2,000 people for an event called the “Lantern Parade” (what’s that?), something completely new to the city, following an all-day rainstorm, on a rescheduled date. We had so much going against us and yet they still came. Amazing.
How was the project grown since last year and what changes or additions can we expect for 2019?
It has grown quite a bit. We have three significant sponsors, as well as more lights, vendors, music, food trucks, fireworks, laser light effects, an illuminated pet contest, all kinds of stuff. And hopefully many more people being a part of the parade. It’s been exciting to see the number of people who already know about the event, via social media and personal interactions we have when out promoting the Parade. It’s also great to see how the event appeals to such a wide range of ages. I’ve talked with twenty-somethings who were making lanterns at our craft brewery lantern-making series, as well as seniors who tell me they are excited to bring their grandkids to the Parade. How many events can do that?
Where do you see the Lantern Parade in the future? What are your plans for growth and expansion?
The goal from the start was for it to become an annual event. The Atlanta parade attracted some 60,000 people last year. If we grow to be only a third as successful as that, we will have created one of the largest free public events in the region. Just imagine! I envision the parade route extending further down the river and across to both sides. I can see enormous potential for boaters to get involved, too. As the Downtown riverfront continues to develop (a new pedestrian bridge next to the Fuller Warren, for example), the Lantern Parade could grow right in step with it. This will become something people from across the Southeast will associate with Jacksonville, the visual spectacle it can become. I firmly believe that.
Do you feel it's the duty of the public, general population, or private sector to step in and organize fundraisers and events such as these when the support from the public sector diminishes or is non-existent?
I believe we all share in the responsibility. You want to live in a better city? Do something to help make that happen. Something even as weird and silly as a Lantern Parade - thousands of people walking around with glowing pieces of art (and even glowing pets) - can create a greater sense of community. But you won’t know until you try.
What have you learned about yourself through your giving and your work?
If I can do it, anyone can. And while my name may be at the top of the masthead, it takes great team effort to produce memorable publications and special events. Fortunately, I am blessed with a great team that can bring these things to life.
How do you define success in what you do?
For the business, keeping the doors open is the first measure of success. We’ve done it for 35 years... so far, so good on that! As for the Jacksonville Lantern Parade and its success, I believe one of my primary roles is to stay out of the way and don’t mess it up. When people see what it is, what it can be, they get it - they want to join in. If my team and I focus on the arrangements leading up to it, the people who turn out to participate will make it a success by their creativity and enthusiasm. The participants are the ones who make it special and memorable.
So long as it doesn’t rain...
We'd like to thank Joe for his participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for reading.
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