By Hilda Ettedgui | Images by Mark Krancer
After a long wait, and during one of the most challenging years in our history, downtown Jacksonville saw the completion, installation, and illumination of the highly anticipated and iconic mixed-media sculpture “Emergence.”
This mural/sculpture/light installation sits atop, and wraps around two sides of the Water Street Parking Garage. It emerged at the end of 2020, presenting a spectacular vision of color, lines, and light that completely changed the views of downtown.
The artwork is by Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan of Haddad|Drugan, a team of well-recognized and prolific public artists from Seattle who were selected by a panel of Jacksonville residents including representatives of the city and of the parking division, art professionals, and city council members and chaired by a member of the Art in Public Places committee.
The project attracted over 170 applicants from all over the country who were narrowed down to three top finalists through a thorough and careful review process by the Art Selection Panel and approved by the Art in Public Places committee. Haddad|Drugan were awarded the contract to produce this grand public artwork with the goal being “to serve as a gateway into downtown and show the arrival into a space of Art & Culture,” explains Christie Holechek, the former Public Art program director.
“Emergence” is a massive mural of colorful ribbon-like lines that dance on a five-story wall at the center of the corner of the garage. These ribbons extend left and right, as undulating silver lines that straighten and settle to become musical staffs on each side of the building. Crowning the colorful ribbons and straddling the roof parapet seven floors high, is an 18-foot-diameter stainless steel circular sculpture composed of approximately 50 specially engineered thermoformed acrylic rods that glow with colored light. Each rod is individually lit with a color-changing RGB LED module that, through color mixing, can make virtually any color and sequence for any duration and create different shows. Inspired by the local flora and fauna, Haddad|Drugan’s “jellyfish/passiflora” becomes an “interactive vision of color and light that is effective in providing the vibrancy the artists were selected to create,” says Cory Driscoll, current chair of the Art in Public Places committee.
But there is more to this artwork than being a beacon. The concept behind this fantastic radiating sculpture is multifold: It represents and honors the neighborhood’s musical history, makes a connection with the performing and cultural sites nearby, shows the city’s relation to the river, reaches out and becomes the intersection between communities, and can be seen from a distance and from many vantage points. Glenn Weiss, current director of the Public Art program notes that, “it was through the Haddad|Drugan proposal that this project took on an iconic nature.”
As described by the artists in their original proposal: “The water lines, like shimmering ripples across the dark river, transform into lines reflecting the sea of rail lines that once existed here. The lines are inspired by the river and rail lines, but also as musical staffs. The staff lines of the art include suggestive musical notation, reflecting LaVilla neighborhood’s rich history as a cultural mecca expressed through its significance in the growth of blues and jazz. The west side is inspired by ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) in 1900 and set to music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson, while the south façade evokes part of the masterful contemporary composition ‘Bridges’ by Courtney Bryan.”