By Laura Riggs
Probably most famous for the photograph that appeared in national news during Hurricane Irma, “Spiritualized Life” was created by Charles Adrian Pillars to honor those lost during World War I. The piece was privately commissioned by the Citizens Committee in 1920 and unveiled in Memorial Park on Christmas Day, 1924. It is one of the first pieces of public art in the city and still stands as one of the most iconic sculptures in Jacksonville.
Nearly a hundred years after “Spiritualized Life” was introduced, most of the public art in Jacksonville continues to be funded by the private sector, in large part due to one person—Preston Haskell. founder of what is now one of the largest private construction companies in Florida. Haskell has led the support for the arts community since moving to Jacksonville in the 1960s. Much of his collection remains on display inside the company’s headquarters on Riverside Avenue. If you ask someone what Haskell’s global headquarters look like, they likely won’t be able to answer. However, if you ask them where the sculpture forged of two stainless steel rings with water flowing from them is located, they may know exactly where the sculpture by Rafe Affleck resides.
“It’s the thing people associate with the building,” Haskell responds when asked how the piece he had commissioned in 1986 has added value to the area. Affleck worked closely with the architect to harmonize the sculpture with the building and the surrounding area. Although the headquarters are located on the riverfront, visitors are unable to see the St. Johns River as they enter the building. The sculpture bridges the waterfront environment behind the building with the hard streetscape in the front, to welcome visitors inside.
This is just one example of the work that Haskell has commissioned throughout Northeast Florida. While he continues to invest heavily in the arts, he has consistently advocated for greater investment from the city. He believes that public art “will make our city even more beautiful, more attractive.” Instead of running the city on the cheap, Haskell hopes more community and city leaders will consider public art an asset, just as we do with public parks. “When compared to cities like Chattanooga, Denver, or Philadelphia,” Haskell explains, “most of the public art in Jacksonville has been privately funded.”
Professor of sculpture at the University of North Florida (UNF) Jenny K. Hager recalls, “After moving to Jacksonville in 2006, I thought it’s a big city, but not a lot of public art.” Coming from the Bay area, a city densely populated with art, Hager understands the value sculpture adds to complement urban spaces. She began by adding sculpture to the UNF campus with fellow instructor Lance Vickery. Then, in 2014, she launched the Sculpture Walk, with the help of a Spark grant from the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and Preston Haskell. After three rounds, the walk has hosted over 36 outdoor sculptures along Main Street Park and Klutho Park.
For more than a decade, Haskell has led the Downtown Sculpture Initiative to place colorful, large-scale, contemporary sculptures that are highly visible from private property or installed directly on public property. The Cultural Council serves as his advisor on the initiative. Appointed by the city in 2006 to administer the Art in Public Places (APP) program, the Cultural Council has procured 115 artworks in Duval County. More than half of these came after the organization successfully advocated in 2015 for payment of past due APP funds that the city owed since 2006. The city continues to earmark less than a half percent of its annual budget to the arts. Yet, when the Bureau of Economic analysis issued their findings last year, they highlighted the arts are a vital component to the United States economy. In Florida, arts and cultural production accounts for three and a half percent of the economy and ranks fourth in value added across sectors.
“The Cultural Council has a wonderful grant-making process in place,” Haskell notes, “so the city could give them more money and know they will serve it well.” Instead, the city earmarked nearly 10 times that amount from this year’s budget for the installation of a cell door system in the pretrial detention facility downtown, which yields no added value to the economy. “[Art] can make for a wonderful downtown,” says Haskell, “but we’re not there yet, and public art can’t do the job by itself. The city needs to invest in public projects, retail, residential, and entertainment venues.”
> Arbus Magazine has curated a list of sculptures—from the urban core to Murray Hill, Riverside, and Avondale, to LaVilla and Springfield—that are highly visible from private property or stand on public property. We encourage the reader to seek them out and discover how each complement or contrast the surrounding environment. Each tells a piece of Jacksonville’s story and harkens back to pivotal moments in the city’s history.