Art in Public Places Perseveres After 25 Years
Art in Public Places is a far-reaching, creative, and impactful solution to meet the needs of our community, but does Jacksonville see the significance of it yet, and the added value and impact public art is having on our city since the founding of the public art ordinance in 1997?
Over twenty-five years ago, an ardent community of leaders set aside their egos, stepped up and formed a powerful collective to work towards a common goal: a public art program. Without them, it may have taken Jacksonville much longer to establish a city-funded Art in Public Places (APP) program. It had been sixty years since the first civic art program was established in the US. Miami had already launched a public art program in 1973. Tampa did the same in 1989. It was 1993, and the most optimal time for Jacksonville to join other large cities across the globe. This law, if adopted, would require the City of Jacksonville to set aside a percent-for-art from eligible capital building construction projects annually.
In 1994, Mayor Ed Austin told the City Council that “Jacksonville was the only major city in Florida without a public art program.” Soon after, many art advocates, community members, and non-profit organizations agreed that Jacksonville was fading out “behind the curve.” Then, almost three years later, a new petition would circulate throughout the community in support of Legislation #96-1105-76. The bill was before City Council, presented by Mayor John Delaney. During a council meeting, two members threatened to walk out, outraged that city leadership would even present “art” as a viable and vital city function worthy of funding. The bill would pass by a majority vote on the condition that the ordinance would be automatically repealed in seven years unless supporters came back to council to “make their case and justify the work.”
Rife with political struggle even to this day, it would take until 2001 to get APP off the ground and running. When the Better Jacksonville Plan (BJP), a half-penny sales tax increase, launched in September of that year, over $1.5 million in public art funding was generated and designated for the new downtown main library, arena, ball park, courthouse, neighborhood branch libraries and other community-related centers throughout Duval county. Not until 2016, under the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) Urban Arts Project and installation of thirty-eight pieces of public art, would APP see an influx of projects like BJP again.
In 2006, the Cultural Council became the administrator of the APP program on behalf of the city. Between 2006 and 2009, “Showing the Way” by Broward Hatcher was commissioned as a symbol and tribute to Tillie K. Fowler; an interdisciplinary K-12 APP curriculum was created for Duval County Public Schools, and brochures were designed and distributed throughout city facilities. The APP program was active, even though advocacy efforts and knowledge of the program had faded in the years since BJP. In 2010, when APP filed legislation to approve the program’s Five Year Plan, it became clear during one-on-one advocacy visits, that many City Council members were unaware that Jacksonville even had a public art program.
Between 2010 and 2014, APP would align with the city’s downtown revitalization efforts to launch temporary public art projects in Main Street Park with a local artist initiative called Art in Strange Places. Additional collaborative projects would evolve such as the Chamblin Uptown mural painted by local artist Shaun Thurston. The location and onsite creation of Shaun’s mural over the course of eight to ten days on Laura Street, was in sight of City Hall and the Ed Ball building. City leadership, employees, and the community at large would experience the actual making of public art live and in person.
The scale and quantity of public art projects would also increase over the next few years.
APP took on a new meaning as city-owned facilities; specifically, parking garages, became blank canvases for public art. Four fifty-foot murals by local artists were hand-painted on the Yates Parking Garage. Today, these beacons of color and light, continue to serve as visual gateways leading commuters and pedestrians from the east into the urban core. The mural lighting illuminates what were once four dark street corners at night.
APP had two big wins between 2014-2015. The DIA Urban Arts Facade & Streetscape Program was approved for three phases, and a unanimous vote by City Council authorized $100,000 for maintenance and conservation. Public Art and Creative Placemaking in the downtown became an approved redevelopment strategy through 2025, and a community-wide maintenance initiative is projected to launch in 2019. Phase I of the “Urban Arts Project” was complete by 2017. By July of the following year, a panel of art professionals and community representatives juried 144 new applications for Phase II. Five artists would be selected to make public art for the Entertainment District with concepts steeped in technology and renewable resources. Those projects will be installed in the late fall of 2019.