The Jacksonville Art scene, love, and life: 10Questions with Chaz Bäck

You will find this 10Questions a lot like a piece of really amazing cheesecake; slowly eat each piece, savoring each bite.  (Our subject will get a kick out of being compared to cheesecake.)  So please do enjoy 10Questions with Chaz Bäck.

Q:  What's your name, and what do you do?

A: I'm Chaz. Bäck. I'm a father, husband, artist, activist. I also watch way too much Law & Order.

Q: It seems to me like your name pops up wherever art is. How did you get started in art?

A: No one loved the Arts more than my mother. I blame it all on her. (amused laugh) Her love of visual art, music, theater and film, and especially the written word is probably the single biggest factor in my creative path. Starting at 5 narrating Goldilocks and the Three Bears to writing as a paid columnist at 15, along with my mother's influence and my father's tolerance let me build artistic muscle and develop a lot of creative processes at an early age.

Q. You have been vocal in the art community in Jacksonville, What do you feel is the state of arts in Jacksonville today?
A. There is no short answer to that, nor is there any one answer that really encapsulates the issue. A few years ago -- fueled by the maturing of social media, largely, and its ability to bring people together -- things really seemed to be looking up for a strengthening and more unified Arts community and, more importantly, Arts initiative, emerging here. But that surge seems to have cooled.
That cycle has, at least in my lifetime of experience with it here in the city, perpetually repeated itself every decade or so. So in those terms, the state of The Arts in Jacksonville is much the same as it has been, and it seems to be the nature of the beast. I will say that I think that big, ballyhooed failures like One Spark do an inestimable amount of harm to the forward progress of an improved Arts culture. The lesson here, at least in my opinion, is to maintain a diligent and stringent wait-and-see attitude on any publicly, privately and especially corporately driven "killer app" or "answer" to Arts growth in Jacksonville. That being said, I think that Jacksonville has been, is and continues to be America's great hidden jewel for emerging and mid-career artists of all kinds. Our city is one of the few spots left in the country where there is little or no public policy regarding The Arts; that lack of support and delineation, while frustrating beyond belief for those locals trying to grow it, means that there is a wide, blank canvas of incredibly fertile opportunity for the future. It's incredibly difficult to earn a living as an artist here, and there is very little support outside the immediate Arts community for those kinds of pursuits. However, the cost of living is incredibly low, we have great weather and lots of room to move around in and be inspired by, and while no one is throwing out great big "Yes! Do that!"s, there's almost no one shutting down the creative process. If you can figure out how to fund it yourself, there's very little limitation. And if you ask me, as both an artist and a lover of The Arts, whether I'd rather be trying to break into a strong existing system or have the chance to be in on the ground floor of creating a whole new, vibrant and contemporary vision of the Arts culture of the future, I'll take the latter ten times out of ten.

Q. What is your title at Folio, and what do you do when you go to work?
A; I'm the Art Director for Folio Media House, which is the rebranding initiative Folio Weekly/Folio Publishing took on about a year or so ago to more accurately address the expanded kinds of services we offer and will be offering going forward. Folio Weekly, of course, is thirty years old this year, and is the bedrock of our company. But we also share our news, commentary, arts, entertainment and marketing information in a number of other ways, from digital assets and social media to targeted specialty publications and event services.

The question was what do I do, right? The short version is that I manage the department that takes the raw materials provided to us from both the editorial department and the sales/advertising department and refines them into the Folio Weekly that you pick up on the street. That includes everything from designing effective ads for our advertising clients to commissioning or creating artwork and photos for our covers and to support our stories, from deciding how the flow of the book will be determined based on overall book and individual story layouts to dealing with the printers when there's a scheduling or quality issue.

Truth be told, I typically have about 5,000 balls in the air at any given time, and try very hard to provide great service to those our department supports as well as make good decisions on what the finished product will look like, whether it's the Folio Weekly your see in print, online, on Facebook, or in any of our posters and promotional items. I work about 50-60 hours a week, and start with a blank slate every seven days.

Q. Speaking as an activist, how do you think that art acts as a social conduit?

A. There are at least a thousand valid definitions of art. One cornerstone part of my definition includes "affecting an emotional response." How intense or personal or intrepid that response may be is not significant, and is highly subjective, but if it doesn't give the viewer/listener/reader any tools or fuels or substance from which to form an emotional or thoughtful experience (including the specific, purposeful and stated goal of producing a non-effect, i.e., exercising my freedom to not stand for the national anthem), then it probably isn't a successful project and needs additional attention and thought.

Visual art has tons of examples of being effective as a change agent, from "The Fifth of May" to the Nazi propaganda machine to #blacklivesmatter. But let's not forget that, through history, theatre has incited riots, symphonies (and Jim Morrison) have caused thousands of people to literally flip their wigs, and writing…well, good grief. From The Bible to The Declaration of Independence to Nietzsche proclaiming "God is dead," perhaps no other artistic and creative medium has produced so much change socially and politically.

To answer the question most plainly: As an agent of our imaginations and the process of our creative drives, art has the ability to supercharge and unify that which is the best (or the worst) in us in a way that captures the attention and organizes the hearts and minds of people into a universal human vocabulary in a way that no other known force can. We can use it to makes life better for everyone or to sell soup, but it alone has the power to break through the barriers that separate us. It's even more powerful than Facebook. [laughs]

Q. On a lighter side, you are recently married. How's that whole newlywed thing going?
A. If I were any more blessed, I would simply explode. This is a second marriage for both Cheryl and I, and it seems like we both learned valuable lessons from our previous relationships that are paying dividends in this one. She and I went to high school together, and even dated for a couple of months after graduating, but things just didn't click and we went on about our separate ways. For thirty years. We reconnected through Facebook, of all things, a little over four years ago. The time must have finally been right, because what was initially supposed to be a brief coffee meet-up turned into a long term relationship and eventually our marriage. We didn't follow the straightest path to get here, but it sure turned out to be wonderful. Like I always say, "God's a funny guy." Our first anniversary is coming up on October.

Q. What's something about you that people might be surprised to know?
A. Not only am I a rational, sane sports fan, but was actually a competitive tennis player when I was younger, headed off as a teenager to a private tennis academy until I broke my leg in 23 places in a bike vs. car accident on Beach Blvd. Spent the better part of a year in a cast(s) with a prototype of "the cage" being the only reason I got to keep my leg. My life would have been much different -- and much less rewarding -- if I had continued on the path to being a professional athlete. Biggest blessing of my life. Like I said, God's a funny guy.

Q. Brag a little about the Bäck clan.
A. Ha! How long is this interview supposed to be??!?!(Chuckle-y laugh) I can go on a long time on this topic. I'll start with Cheryl because, if I start with anyone else, I'll have to answer the eventual "top billing" questions. [giggles]

Cher is the most incredible, stabilizing force in my otherwise willy-nilly, artsy-fartsy lifestyle. I'd likely be dead without her. No joke. I've been dealing with some pretty heavy health issues these past few years, health issues that Cher was able to encourage me to have treated. The recovery is a long one, and I'm still walking in faith on a lot of it, but the truth is that, together, we're making our way through it. And loving it. Oh, and did I mention that she looks like she hasn't aged a day since high school? Why she wants to be with me, I'll never understand. But I'm glad she does.

My oldest, my daughter Mariah Paisley, is a truly gifted poet and bright light to everyone she knows…which I think is everyone, really. She graduated from Douglas Anderson a few years ago in the Creative Writing tract, and rather than go straight to full-time college, decided to experience life first. Because that's what poets do.

My older son, Hudson, graduated from Stanton last year, and after AP-ing out of almost his entire first two years of college, attended UCF on a partial scholarship. He was one of the editors on "The Devil's Advocate," Stanton's award-winning student newspaper, and originally intended to go into journalism but recently switched his major to fine art. His visual art is coming along very nicely (instruction pays!), and he's currently putting together a band to play original music that I would describe (probably incorrectly) as having the ephemeral and emotional qualities of Radiohead and the jam-band passion of the Grateful Dead.

Cameron, my youngest, is a sophomore at D.A. in the Creative Writing tract, and is really coming into his own this year. He loves writing -- not poetry, but non-fiction and journalistic accounts -- but will be the first one to tell you that his heart lives just as much on the soccer field as it does in the writer's studio. Fortunately, he has a heart that is so big it can handle being in at least two places. The highlight of his summer? He got chosen to be a beta tester for EA Sports' new FIFA video game for PS4.

My stepdaughter Meghan is the same age as Mariah and a Fletcher graduate (like me and her mom). Sharp as a whip and passionate to a fault, Meghan is a full-on activist-in-training; when she was still in high school, she wanted to become a pro bono attorney to help those who had no access to decent legal representation. She's currently exercising her creativity in a local grocery store bakery, training to specialize in cake decorating.

If the kids were The Beatles (I know, there's only four Beatles sheesh) then my stepson Connor would be George Harrison; the quiet one who sits back, taking it all in, assimilating what's going on, straining out the dreck, and then blowing everyone's mind with a guitar solo you never would've expected. He and Hudson are the same age, too, but very different in all the best ways. After graduating from Fletcher last year, Connor's working at the Beach, loving his independence and planning on returning to school in the near future.

Q, Phew! No wonder you are a busy guy! Are you involved in any volunteer work?
A. Sadly, not any, really. Not right now. My new marriage, my family, my heavy workload and my health issues, as I mentioned, are really biting into how much I can do, period, even recreational things that I love doing. I rarely get out to any openings any more, and even find it hard to work on my own visual art. I haven't done a play in over three years. I've been involved in so much stuff in the not-too-distant past that I should probably feel okay with this current stage, but I feel really guilty about it nonetheless. I'm sure the clouds will part soon enough and I'll be right back into the thick of things, but in the meantime, I try and make my contributions by being vocal and supportive of the things I'm most passionate about. I really, really wish I had a better answer.

Q. What do you want people to say about you after you have passed on?
A. Oh, geez, Terri. You know me. I really don't much care what people say about me now. Other than how it affects my family, I doubt I'll care what they say about me then. Although I would really love it if something, anything I've done or said, built or created or postulated, helped someone, or anyone, to make their life and the lives of others better, happier, more peaceful. Other than my family, that's all I really care about anyway.


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