Director of Art in Public Places
Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville
Conversation with and photograph by Tiffany Manning
You have a really rich history in the arts, not just as the director of Art in Public Places but as an artist yourself. Can you share a little of your backstory?
I am the anomaly in my family, the only artist, and I’ve always loved to draw. Although it came naturally, I didn’t quite understand how to use it. In college, I studied graphic design on a path to a “real” job, but felt confined to a computer. I was always pursuing a BFA and that would lead me to study drawing and painting. I’d discover the lush, figurative paintings by Lucian Freud and the expressive and aggravated line drawings of Egon Schiele. I also became an immediate lover of German Expressionism and Kirchner. By graduation, I knew confidently that art would be my way of life and that I had made the right decision to pursue this path. I went to Europe and then returned to teach, work in galleries, write grants, and produce a number of paintings to exhibit for the next ten years. I was working through my MFA from Maine College of Art in 2007. As intended, the program would force me to explore the outer edges of my practice including the avenues of performance installation, video and sound. Ultimately, I found my way back to drawing, and today my art practice is steeped in expressive line and mark-making.
So what led you to ultimately take on an administrative role with the City of Jacksonville, and do you still find time to feed your creative well?
I’m a Jacksonville native, and I’ve always wanted our city to have a robust art and culture scene, similar to cities in the Northeast like Boston and Portland. The director position was the key to being part of that change. I could always wear both hats – the creativity of the right and the logic of the left. I prefer one over the other of course. I knew the behind-the-scenes work would shape the public art program on a larger scale and for a greater audience. My time in the studio has fluctuated over the last seven years. Since bureaucracy is a strong component of this profession, I’m making every effort right now to get back into the studio. In 2010, when the APP director position was posted, I knew right away that it was a natural fit and fusion of two very familiar art worlds – the studio and arts administration.
That sounds like the type of driven passion our city needs, so thank you! Have you had any significant mentors who shaped you into who you are today?
When I was seventeen, I had just graduated from Middleburg High School and I was ready to escape the rural life. I stayed in Jacksonville, and my first art teacher in college was Jim Draper. He was legit. He was an artist. He taught me how to study the world around me through observation and how to use drawing as a method for interpreting those experiences. My first figure drawing class under his direction taught me to see beyond objects and to study from life. While attending UNF, I had the privilege to work with Paul Ladnier, Louise Freshman Brown and Dr. Debra Murphy. I continued to stay in Jacksonville and join the art scene. My first job was with Jim, and Steve Williams at Pedestrian Gallery and Raw Materials. Here I would focus on the business of art, and establish my first relationships with the local artist community. Jim’s motivation and willingness to put art first taught me to trust in myself and believe in the value of art. I would eventually work with Jim again. This time side-by-side teaching at UNF. It was an honor. Today, we continue to have a close bond and I proudly credit him for being the first to tap into the source of my creativity.
In seven years you have really done some amazing work as the director of Art in Public Places, including the evaluation and appraisal of the city’s public art collection. How large is our current collection and what is the value?
There are now a hundred and fourteen pieces of public art in the APP collection. These works are located at public facilities throughout Duval County. You will find that some of the earliest memorials in the collection date back to 1898 and 1914, including a number of monumental sculptures made of bronze. Other materials represented in the collection include fiberglass, LED lighting, stainless steel, aluminum, digital photography and acrylic painting. You can find information on our website at www.culturalcouncil.org/artandculture. I encourage the community to get out and explore the art in Jacksonville. You can pull up the map and descriptions on your phone and take a self-guided tour. Following the most recent acquisition, Mirrored River: Where do you see yourself?, the total collection value is estimated at $6.7 million.
I understand that during the appraisal process, there was a surprise discovery in the work being evaluated in the Jacksonville Public Library. What was found?
A small Augusta Savage bust etched with the artist’s signature was discovered during the 2016 appraisal study. For many years, the sculpture sat on a help desk at the Dallas Graham Branch Library until the library director (following her intuition) did some research and
decided to place it into a safe in the downtown Main Library. For those who don’t know, Savage was born in Green Cove Springs, Florida, in 1892. She found her way to Jacksonville in the early 1900s. She would become a notable African American sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance, sculpting busts and portraits of prominent African American figures. The bust, which is untitled, is a very significant addition to the APP collection. Today, it can be found on display in the Main Library’s Special Collections Department on the 4th floor.
What initiatives are in the works for Art in Public Places?
Now that we have funding available from the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, we will be concentrating on ten public art projects throughout the city. The DIA Urban Arts Project will continue as Phase II and III are installed in the urban core. Simultaneously, members of the APP Committee will lead the art selection process for three new neighborhood projects. The first maintenance and conservation initiative for the entire collection kicks off in 2018. To do this work, we will engage communities and neighborhood groups by actively seeking their participation and eventual stewardship as ambassadors to the collection.
My hope is to also help grow the artist pool. I believe in working with the best professional artists, wherever they are from, and paying artists fair compensation for their work. We are focusing our efforts on building new public and private partnerships while also strengthening our community engagement. It will be a new lens for many to see through, but we must shape that lens and encourage unique collaborations and local partnerships. Anyone can play an active role in changing our city. Building an authentic and meaningful public art collection that represents our unique story and diverse culture is a great place to start.
As the director of Art in Public Places, what are your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges are money and perception. I always say that I’m fighting “the good fight.” Honestly, I’ve never fought so hard [as I have] to prove that public art is a change-maker. As with most governmental agencies, there is so much red tape. However, after many years of building relationships with city leadership, I see the work paying off. We are actively revising the APP ordinance to reflect best practices in the field, and have spent months developing a new artist contract. Maintenance and conservation funding is not adequate to sustain the APP collection. It is only ten percent of the budget for each project.
The meaning of time has changed drastically for me as most public art projects take at least one year to complete. Resources are also limited as the program grows and it becomes more difficult to accomplish new projects. Perhaps this is good problem to have? Add to that the misconceptions about the program throughout the community and you have a whole different set of challenges. Despite these hurdles, I am still hopeful because we are moving forward.