Even beachy public art helps cultivate a diverse Beaches identity
By Meredith T. Matthews
Sculptural Survey at the Five-Way
Driving through the five-way intersection of Seminole, Plaza, and Sherry Roads in Atlantic Beach, one sees artwork at every turn. A large, concrete arc sculpture sits near the picturesque city government buildings and next to Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Station 55. Created as a site-specific piece by Brad Tallery, “Elements” is described by Atlantic Beach City Manager Kevin Hogencamp as “interactive and interpretive—lay the arc down, it represents sand; stand it up, it represents wind; flip it over, it’s a wave.”
Directly across the intersection is a very different, representational, bronze sculpture called “In Search of Atlantis.” Known locally as “sea turtle girl,” this piece features a girl swimming with a green sea turtle near sea grass. It was commissioned by the Atlantic Beach city council and public arts commission as a gift to the city residents. Kristen Visbal was asked to create the piece after exhibiting her sculptural work at a nearby gallery in Jacksonville. At the installation ceremony in 2009, Visbal said she “wanted to focus on the children, the future of Atlantic Beach. Also, marine life and the conservation of marine life.”
Rounding out this busy intersection are two more pieces of art, one of which is functional. There is a tall tide clock designed and manufactured by Fancy Street Clock Co. as a prototype and the first of its kind for the clock company, according to Hogencamp. This clock is included in Atlantic Beach’s public art list because it is unique. It has been dedicated in honor of Atlantic Beach resident Kevin Bodge, a coastal engineer who was instrumental in its purchase and continues to maintain it as a labor of love to the community.
Finally, at nearly any empty spot you might catch a glimpse of a brightly colored, stylized critter sitting near the ground or climbing a tree. These two-dimensional sculptures by Atlantic Beach resident and artist Scotie Cousin are, in his words, “fluid and random and transient—yet-consistent and whimsical and wonderful gifts of love.” Cousin started making these pieces and placing them around the city during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to simply spread some joy. He has since become a household name around Atlantic Beach and it’s common to see his purchased pieces placed in residents’ yards.
This one intersection, its diverse artworks placed where potentially thousands of pedestrians and cars will view them on a daily basis, offers a good survey of the various functions of public art. Public art is identity- and community-building; it can honor people, organizations, and causes; and it can elicit emotional responses and incite actions. Most importantly, it is for everyone. At the foot of “In Search of Atlantis,” lies a plaque that reads: “Public art has the power to energize our public spaces, arouse our thinking, transform the place where we live, work and play, into a more welcoming and beautiful environment.” Atlantic Beach is leading the way among the Jacksonville Beaches cities, with abundant public art energizing diverse areas.
Minimalism and Animals at Beaches Town Center and Beyond
It is no surprise that the Beaches as whole feature predominately coastal themes in their public art, but this helps build the cities’ identities, their vibes, and represents their priorities. After all, a city by the ocean should make it clear that the ocean ranks high in its residents’ and leaders’ minds. Atlantic Beach expands on this quite a bit, however, with public art that is also completely abstract, acting as a place maker that gives certain areas significance. The popular Beaches Town Center (BTC)—a vibrant, walkable potpourri of shops and restaurants straddling the Atlantic and Neptune Beach border—has a designated art district developed by the Beaches Town Center Agency (BTCA). The BTCA has commissioned four artworks so far with plans for more.