DIA Urban Arts Project responds to — and creates anew — our Downtown spaces
For four weeks, artist Andrew Reid SHEd could be found virtually every day painting the 3,500-square-foot Skyway columns leading south from Hemming Park along Hogan Street in Downtown. There was a placard always nearby, explaining that SHEd was completing murals as part of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville’s Art in Public Places (APP) program and Phase I of the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) Urban Arts Project. While he could have maintained focus on his work, SHEd took time to engage with the people walking by: he would come to recognize many faces as he learned the pedestrian traffic patterns, and would say hello to many surprised people coming across his work for the first time.
What was the most common reaction he received? “Thank you.” “People were so grateful,” says APP Director Christie Holechek. All six artists who participated in Phase I of the DIA Urban Arts Project agree, sharing that many passersby would mention public art they had seen in other cities and get excited talking about it and seeing it happen here.
Citizens, city council members, arts organizations, and urban planners have all been discussing the creation of an arts district in the Downtown core over the last decade. When Holecheck, an artist and former arts educator at University of North Florida and Jacksonville University, came on board with the Cultural Council in 2010, she instantly saw the role of public art as a solution. “It was a no-brainer,” she says. “We needed to give this idea a tangible form. [The DIA Urban Arts Project] is everything we need — it supports community and downtown revitalization.”
The DIA Urban Arts Project was approved as a pilot three-phase streetscape public art project, funded by the DIA as part of the Community Redevelopment Agency plan for Downtown. Accomplished in just over one year, Phase I is a scalable template for public art projects that illustrates high impact. Thirty-eight streetscape pieces created in five categories — iconic sculpture, sculptural bike racks, traffic signal cabinets, sculptural seating, and Skyway column murals — are what Holechek calls “bridge projects,” meant to bridge artists’ studio practice with public art creation, and provide experience for artists and the city to learn together the specifics of commissioning new public art.
Holechek approaches her work from the perspective of an artist and Jacksonville-area native, so she is sensitive to the needs of both parties. (Read more about her in The Conversation, page 38) She has pushed the Cultural Council to grow its professional development offerings so that local artists can feel qualified and prepared for public art commissions. “The reality of working in public art is very different than working in a studio,” she explains. “You have to be willing to be part of the process, listen to your community, and find how that may potentially change how you interpret your own work.”
The DIA Urban Arts project was conceptualized on every level for learning how to grow the city’s public art collection and aid in its revitalization efforts. Not only is the scope and style of projects scalable, the subject and approach to the pieces is site specific, in a bigger way: the development of the artworks is guided by researching the city. Participating artists spent weeks learning Jacksonville’s history, ecology, current affairs, etc., and sharing their research and ideas with each other. There is learning and engagement embedded in all steps of the project.
The artworks installed along Bay, N. Hogan, Adams, Forsyth, Laura, Duval and Water Streets are varied, but cohesively create an enlivened and enhanced Downtown. The vibrancy of the Skyway column murals along Hogan Street significantly brightens the shadowed corridor. The shapes and colors of the bike racks signify safety and support for bike riders, and the sculptural seating invites pedestrians to enjoy their transit. Designs enveloping traffic signal cabinets turn rectangles of metal that dull sightlines into points of kinetic energy. And the delicately-crafted metal sculpture installed on Laura Street stands with strong presence as a testament to the city’s growing aesthetic legacy.
A panel of nine community members chose the six artists participating in Phase I. All are Floridians, and two are local — Lance Vickery, a Jacksonville Beach sculptor and adjunct professor of art and design at UNF, and Jenny Hager, associate professor of art and design at UNF.
Each artist worked on a different type of art, save the two artists who painted murals on the Skyway columns. With this overlap, Holechek says they are an especially good representation of the intention of the project. Cecilia Lueza and the aforementioned SHEd have very different styles, but fully collaborated on the planning of their murals from the community engagement and research phases. “These two in particular had to be thoughtful in how they work together,” says Holechek, pointing out that their respective rows of columns meet at a street corner, visually merging their styles.
When the artists were asked to research the city, the hope was that they would bring to light things that we haven’t highlighted, or that we need to further, and the two artists addressed their findings differently, but harmoniously.