Two 50-foot murals stretch up the sides of the Yates Parking Garage on the corner of Adams and Market streets. Turn around, and you see a massive frog extends across the back of Burro Bar, cupping a pool of water and the fisherman who "caught" him. Walk a few blocks west, take a right, and chunks of uprooted Earth float above Chamblin's Uptown, while just up the street, colorful metal tendrils of James Rosburg's sculpture reach toward the sky in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art.
These installations are just a sampling of the art that adorns Downtown, pieces we might pass often without giving them much thought.
This is exactly what the MOCA Public Art Walking Tour hopes to address. Museum Curator Ben Thompson has handpicked Downtown art to share with the curious public. As curator for the past seven years and a recently reappointed council member on the Art in Public Places Committee, Thompson is invested in the city's public art.
"They are public, so typically they're either funded [by the city] or on public property, so it shows that the city itself values culture and creativity," Thompson said.
Recent developments like One Spark and the separate Spark Initiative suggest that this city and its citizens are interested and invested in the arts. One Spark, a five-day innovation event held in April, brought 130,000 people Downtown and catalyzed a recent upwelling of artistic support. The Spark Initiative is the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville's effort to revitalize the urban core through artistic and social projects.
The Art in Public Places Committee, established in 1997, advocates and promotes the importance of public art in civic life. The committee is involved in funding and acquisition of various artistic pieces for public access.
Thompson wants everyone to know that public art is not just exhibited outdoors. A key part of the tour is an extensive photography collection housed in the Main Library. The collection holds a personal appeal for Thompson, because he was part of the subcommittee that acquired seven new photographs in 2012.
Beautiful exterior installations will not be forgotten, such as Shaun Thurston's formidable frog on the back of Burro Bar or Sean Mahan's illustration of origami paper cranes on Yates Parking Garage. Thurston was a creator at One Spark and his project, "20 Murals in a Year," received the fourth-highest number of votes. His frog mural was completed during the One Spark competition and his work is visible throughout town, including at Chamblin's Uptown, The Salty Fig and Sun-Ray Cinema.
The walking tour is the first of its kind for MOCA, more of an artistic expedition than a traditional exhibition.
"Many people walk by, day in and day out, and never notice [the art]. The value is to stop and acknowledge and talk about the works around us and value them," Thompson said. "Without them, it would be a blank space."
Downtown Public Art
If you can't make the tour or just can't wait to find out more, here's a look at what will be featured.
James A. Rosburg, 1994; outside MOCA
This colorful piece is more than an eye-catching abstract. Rosburg created the sculpture in tribute to his mother's hometown of Harlan, Iowa. Previously located in front of the 550 Water St. building, the sculpture has welcomed MOCA visitors and intrigued passersby since 2008.
Art in Public Places Photography Collection
15 artists; Main Library, conference level
The collection features 15 artists, nine of whom are residents of Northeast Florida: Linda Broadfoot, Tom Hager, Paul Karabinis, Theresa Segal, Jay Shoots, Maggie Taylor, Jerry Uelsman, Rick Wagner and Mark Sain Wilson. The photographers' works explore various themes, including relationships among society, culture and nature.
"Allegory of a Library"
Kathryn Freeman, 2005; Main Library's
Freeman, a narrative figure painter, used local architecture to inspire her "Springfield Composition," which illustrates the intertwined core of Jacksonville's history and art. "Allegory of a Library" is a compilation of more than 1,000 students' favorite stories, characters and authors interwoven into a three-story mural to express the joy of reading.
Al Held, 2005; Main Library's grand reading room
This colorful, geometric banner is the only painting of the commissioned four that Al Held completed before his death in 2005. Abstract expressionist Held served in the Navy 1945-'47; upon his release, he enrolled at Art Students League in New York City. He went on to attend the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris from 1950-'53 and taught art at Yale University from 1962-'80.
Felicia Asteinza and Joey Fillasre, 2013; Yates Parking Garage, Adams and Market streets
This 52-foot abstract mural was completed July 1. Asteinza and Fillasre, founding members of the local Milagros Art Collective, worked together on this eye-catching collage of shapes and colors. The mural is clearly visible when you enter Downtown from the Hart Bridge Expressway, and the brilliant blue climbing up the building's side is a vibrant interpretation of the St. Johns River that courses below.
"Girl and Origami"
Sean Mahan, 2013; Yates Parking Garage, Adams and Newnan streets
The contemplative young girl and fragile origami cranes feel far more imposing when you stand at the base of their 52-foot cement canvas. Created by Neptune Beach artist Mahan, the mural includes his decisive lines paired with a softer view of human nature. Mahan began painting June 6, at the same time Asteinza and Fillasre began work on their mural.
"Spirit of Florida"
Shaun Thurston, 2013; Back of Burro Bar, Chomp Chomp and Icon building, Adams Street (visible from Newnan Street)
A mammoth frog cups a fisherman and his boat in its "hands" as a thin fishing line leads your eye back to the enormous amphibian, which carries thick vegetation and earth on its back.
Caroline Madden and Jonathon Christie, 2006; Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts
Though you may be praying that the blue glass rods that splay out from their twisting metal base don't detach and spear you, you cannot tear your eyes away from the mesmerizing structure suspended from the ceiling. Created by Madden and Christie with the help of students from Jacksonville University's College of Fine Arts glass program, the sculpture weighs about 4,000 pounds and is composed of more than 300 blue glass horns.