as originally published in Arbus Magazine Mar/Apr ’22 issue
Probably most famous for the photograph that appeared in national news during Hurricane Matthew, “Spiritualized Life and Winged Victory,” 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 100 years after “Life” was introduced, most of the public art in Jacksonville continues to be funded by the private sector, largely due to one person – Preston Haskell. Founder of 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, suppose you ask them where the sculpture, forged of two stainless steel rings with water flowing from them, is located. In that case, they may know exactly where the piece 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 cannot 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 more significant 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, 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 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 Jacksonville Cultural Council and Preston Haskell. After three rounds, the Walk has hosted over 36 outdoor sculptures, from various artists, 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 of Greater Jacksonville serves as his advisor on the initiative. Appointed by the city in 2006 to administer the Art in Public Places 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 dating back to 2006. The city continues to earmark less than 0.5% of its annual budget to the arts. Yet, when the Bureau of Economic Analysis issued its findings last year, they highlighted that the arts are vital to the U.S. Economy. In Florida, arts and cultural production accounts for 3.5% of the economy and ranks 4th 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 ten times that amount from this year’s budget to install 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.”
As the city lags behind with its investment in the arts, the appreciation from Jacksonville’s residents continues to grow. Thankfully, dozens of private organizations are dedicated to creating a great city, not a cheap city. ArtRepublic sparked a public art renaissance in 2016 with its five-year mural project and the expansion of art installations beyond downtown. Although Hager’s project is complete, some pieces from the Sculpture Walk have been purchased to remain part of the permanent collection of Art in Public Places. She agrees that the demand for public art is flourishing. She has received more commissions in the past decade. Hager also facilitates rotating works by international, regional, and local artists in James Weldon Johnson Park and the UNF Seaside Sculpture Park in Jacksonville Beach.
The Cultural Council also recently installed two large-scale sculptures by Donald Gialanella, “Winged Victory” in front of Ribault High School and “On the Shoulders of Legends” at the Legends Center on the north side of Jacksonville. Jen Jones Murray, Director of the Public Arts Program, explains, “Our 2021-2025 goal is to widen the location scope of where public art is being invested and placed. We are placing the majority of our projects in areas underserved by the program prior.” Whether it’s for installing a mural or sculpture, the Cultural Council goes through an extensive procurement process to develop and deliver taxpayer-funded artwork. Jones Murray adds that “[although] installing a sculpture may require additional steps, the process is the same. All public art, no matter the medium, will include a robust community engagement process that vets the needs and desires of the community and allows the artist to develop a work of art that addresses those critical elements from their own artistic lens.”
Where statues often honor a specific person, artists often use sculpture to harmonize the environment. Public art can both tell a story and be welcoming to everyone. After more than two years of isolation from one another and uncertainty, what better way to heal our collective trauma than through the power of art? Although this list is incomplete, it provides an opportunity to see Jacksonville from a different point of view. Whether walking, riding a bike, or touring in a tuk-tuk, there are plenty of ways to appreciate how artists, dreamers, engineers, teachers, entrepreneurs, and businesses are working together to forge this city forward.
Arbus 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 contrasts the surrounding environment. Each tells a piece of Jacksonville’s story and harkens back to pivotal moments in the city’s history.
“Emergence” is a well-placed, show-stopping piece that speaks to the city’s musical history, specifically that of LaVilla and its former days as a Black cultural mecca. The fact that the lights’ colors can be tailored to current events, remembrances, and celebrations makes it an interactive, living part of our city.
“The Memorial to the Great Fire of Jacksonville” speaks for itself—the fire of 1901 was arguably the most significant event during Jacksonville’s history and deserves a powerful memorial artwork such as this. Its angle points forward with a sleek futuristic look, and its crumbing lower texture reminds us of the fire’s irreparable damage to the core of our city just as it was emerging.
“Showing the Way” has a multi-faceted, unique, and intelligent design that is fitting for a woman who could be described the same way. Tillie Fowler’s inspiration lives in this piece with strength and joy. The primary colors also lend it an unexpected playfulness.