In 2012, American Style Magazine named Jacksonville the 15th top city for art in the U.S. Since that time, the public art movement for this northeast Florida city has only grown stronger and picked up a broader selection of canvases along the way. Jacksonville recently welcomed a new addition to its public art collection: The Yates Parking Garage, a downtown, city-owned facility that is home to one of the city’s largest outdoor murals.
While public art isn’t a new concept, it’s had a large effect on Jacksonville, where many residents are beginning to realize that art isn’t always confined to a formal gallery. Parking garages, benches, bus stops, trash receptacles, and newspaper bins can all be transformed through art, which not only beautifies everyday functional items, but also creates a city’s identity and shapes its reputation. Paris’ Place du Tertre, Tulsa’s Brady Arts District, and Asheville, N.C.s River Arts District are all examples of placemaking as defined by artists and their work.
Many agree that Jacksonville is teeming with possible art canvases. The Yates Parking Garage murals have paved the way for large-scale murals to be realized.
Art in Public Places
The Yates Garage murals were commissioned by the City of Jacksonville’s Art in Public Places Program, which exists to provide responsible stewardship and maintenance of the city’s public art collection. Christie Holechek is the Art in Public Places Program director, and together with an appointed committee, manages the process of acquiring new works for the city’s public art collection.
Holechek believes many locals are starting to realize their communities can benefit greatly when the city invests in creators.
“Several of Jacksonville’s residents living and working in the urban core are enthusiastic that the city is leveraging its community assets to produce street murals on public buildings,” she says. “They claim that the city is overdue for arts integration, and many have witnessed other cities similar to Jacksonville showcase their artists better. Those cities are now thriving because of it.”
In December 2012, the Art in Public Places committee issued a call to artists for mural design proposals. The committee’s selection panel was comprised of art and community professionals who were tasked with ranking each proposal on artistic excellence, sustainability, related artist experience, level of city engagement, and improvement of the pedestrian environment. The winning proposals were announced in February 2013 and the artists began work in June.
The first set of murals feature an abstract approach to honoring the St. Johns River, which is the city’s iconic waterway that runs directly through the downtown urban core. “Coruscating River,” by St. Augustine artists Felici Asteinza and Joey Fillastre of Milagros Art Collective, is best seen by drivers entering downtown from the Hart Bridge Expressway—a main thoroughfare carrying more than 50,000 motorists each day.
“Girl and Origami” is a symbolic creation from Neptune Beach artist Sean Mahan, meant to express the harmonious interaction between a girl and her environment. Mahan’s mural is designed to engage pedestrians at the street level and serve as a visual connector to accessible public parking.
Covering a 50-foot canvas is no small feat for artists, and there’s tremendous skill required in the meticulous scaling and proportion that’s used to transform the designs from their original proposal renderings. Each day, the artists painted for six to eight hours, all while strapped to a safety harness inside a cherry-picker lift platform. The murals were complete in just four weeks.
Despite the fast pace, Holechek explains that the Art in Public Places Program places the highest emphasis on sustainability and maintenance. For example, lighting units will illuminate the murals from the roof of the garage at night rather than at street level, greatly reducing the possibility of vandalism. Months before the first brush touched the stair tower “canvas,” the committee and artists agreed on the best choice of materials to maximize the murals’ sustainability. This included a thorough pressure washing, primer, and weather-resistant paint that included UV protection properties. The four murals are expected to thrive for seven years, when the first round of maintenance will be performed.
The sustainability of the materials on the parking garage play an even larger role: shaping Jacksonville’s identity.
“On highly-visible and accessible building façades, artists will create visual snapshots in the context of our city to produce public art that is sustainable and able to survive from one generation to the next. As a result, Jacksonville’s diverse culture and often-understated history will endure as lasting infrastructure, further shaping and showcasing the city’s identity well into the future,” Holechek says.
The Spark District
Despite the beautiful backdrop of the St. Johns River and a growing restaurant/bar scene, downtown Jacksonville has long combatted an unwelcome state of quiet inactivity on evenings and weekends, after its workforce of 55,000 leave their corporate office buildings and exit the area to commute to the suburbs. In response to this need for downtown revitalization, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville created a walkable, defined arts sector in the urban core called the Spark District, which will feature pedestrian-level arts experiences that will draw locals and visitors alike, ultimately growing the economic footprint.
Holechek works hand-in-hand with the Cultural Council, and the Yates Garage murals intentionally fall into this jurisdiction and act as a gateway to the Spark District.
“Large in scale for the greatest impact, the four 50-foot Yates murals serve as one of four gateways leading into the Spark District, an arts district giving audiences a destination place at the city’s center to experience creative energy and vibrant streetscapes. Each gateway is intended to be highly visible and accessible to both pedestrians and vehicles at the street level,” Holechek says.
Tiffany Manning served as the official photographer for the project. She frequented the mural site every couple of days at various times to capture images. She was pleased to see the positive response from pedestrians, drivers, and garage patrons.
“I thought it was really interesting during the times when I was out there documenting the traffic that drove by would always do a double take and I would find them staring at the wall instead of paying attention to the stoplight! Lots of smiles, lots of honks, and people just very excited about what was happening. People would yell encouragement out the window and talk about how great what the artists were doing was for downtown,” she says
Manning witnessed a consistent curiosity that became a mainstay for those in the immediate vicinity.
“There would be people who would come and check almost daily,” she explains. “The same group of office workers would come out and get an update on the progress. They were all so excited about what was being created right around the corner from their office. It did a little bit of spirit lifting, I think. And the general excitement level was pretty phenomenal.”
The Yates Parking Garage is a city-owned facility, so the partnership between the Art in Public Places team and the city’s parking department needed to be strong.
City of Jacksonville Public Parking Officer Jack Shad said the mural process was a positive experience for his staff. His advice for other parking professionals interested in incorporating public art into their facilities is to have multiple professionals evaluate the design submissions.
“I think the public process and the expertise that the Cultural Council brought to the selection really gave some credibility to the artwork, so it wasn’t just, ‘This is what the parking director likes,’” he says. “The best submissions were decided by a group of stakeholders and done very professionally.”
Shad believes the murals have obvious benefits for both the garage owner and garage customers.
“I’m hoping in the long run that these projects will increase our business a little bit,” he says. “To most people, all parking garages look alike, so if you can be the one that’s distinctive, it helps people remember where you are and you become a landmark. And, hopefully, that will lead to more people coming in. These types of projects give people a reason to go downtown and everybody benefits from that.”
Erin Galat is communications manager for the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 904.358.3600.