A Dedication to Community and Our River
The Renovated Southbank Riverwalk Gains the Newest Addition to the City Public Art Collection
BY DANIEL AUSTIN, Communications Manager, Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville
Here’s a bold new idea for Jacksonville: “We want to make this city a destination for mosaic art,” says Kenny Rouh, who, along with his wife Kate Garcia Rouh, co-founded Roux Art, Inc. A business that focuses on creating “community mosaics,” Roux Art’s experience comes from Kate, a lifetime artist and a twenty-year Duval County Public School art teacher, and Kenny on the business side, who recently retired after 27 years with Crowley Maritime Corporation. For the Rouhs, the draw to mosaic art is two-fold; not only is the final product aesthetically beautiful and a charming addition to the urban landscape, the process of creating the pieces brings out the best in our community. Both of these ideals would come into play to create a new landmark for Jacksonville in a somewhat unexpected location: Downtown’s Southbank.
Walking along the newly renovated Southbank Riverwalk, there are many exciting features to observe. Brightly colored pavers guide your way along the mighty St. Johns River and end in a spectacularly radiant formation surrounding the upgraded Navy Memorial, an important landmark in a town which owes much to the Naval presence here. After sunset, energy-efficient LED lights illuminate soaring sail structures, bringing the Southbank out of a long period of feeling neglected and raising its profile out of the shadows of its more photogenic Northern sister.
One of the most striking new features, however, is the city’s newest piece of public art. Making your way under the Main Street Bridge, a glint will catch your eye. As you continue to slope downward, so much so that you feel you might actually go under the lapping waves of the river itself, you come upon the monumental work by Roux Art, entitled “Mirrored River: Where Do You See Yourself?”
“When we replied to the Cultural Council’s call-to-artists for the space, it just made sense to us to honor the river,” says Kenny Rouh. “First reason was the space’s proximity to the water itself, plus the current focus of the cultural community on the St. Johns.” This year has been declared the “Year of the River” by Cultural Fusion, a collaborative cadre of arts and culture organizations in town who choose a common thread for cross-promotional programming throughout the year. Year of the River (#YOTR on social media) was chosen in an effort to dedicate programming that connected the cultural organizations both to each other and to our most important natural asset. “The River is a uniting theme,” Rouh remarked. “It ties us all together.”
Initial concepts by Kate Garcia Rouh floated the idea of wildlife; birds, fish, and a look a Northeast Florida flora. Through the process of working with an art advisory committee of the Art in Public Places committee, the design evolved into a more abstract piece that really gave focus to the star component: an aerial view of the St. Johns River created from mirrored tile pieces.
“Mirrored River” clocks in as Roux Art’s biggest mosaic to date at a stunning 64 feet in length and 7 feet in height, as the piece spans the entire width of the Main Street Bridge. “It’s a prime example of the work we do and can continue to do in Jacksonville,” says Kenny Rouh. “This piece is city-owned through Art in Public Places, but the same can be done with private property owners. Mosaic is a powerful art form; it both brightens up buildings and offers opportunity for participation in its creation.”
That participation was a key factor in the community’s quick favoring of this highly visible piece. The Roux Art team worked with over 70 volunteers to complete the massive installation over 42 work days. “Community involvement isn’t just a fun bonus for us,” says Rouh, “it’s necessary for us to complete the work on time and in budget.” Partnerships were formed to access supplies, like Lee & Cates Glass who provided the mirrors and Interline Brands, who donated both supplies and employee volunteer time. “We had a young woman from Interline walk by when we were working on the piece. She loved it, and wanted to help. She took her request back to Interline, who generously stepped up and asked us what we needed in terms of help.”
Through outreach on social media plus contacts made from participation in One Spark, during which the Roux Art team worked on tiling Main Street Park, people came from all walks of life to assist in the project.
“We had retirees come out, former art teachers and students joined us,” says Rouh. “The Cultural Council staff joined us, as did the Interline staff. Our core volunteers carried us through. We even had a homeless gentlemen, who is actually mute, assist us for a few weeks. Art really offers the chance to bring us all together.”
The reactions from both volunteers and community members have been overwhelmingly positive for Roux Art, who wrapped up the grouting and final touches at the end of May. A sunset dedication ceremony is set to be held on June 2nd at 7pm, as it is the most enchanting time to interact with the piece. The fiery color of the sun’s final rays reflecting off the mosaic and mirroring the river, the Downtown skyline, and the viewer all at once in a fractured elegance is truly a sight to behold.
“We’re grateful to the Cultural Council and the Art in Public Places committee for having the foresight to understand how effectively a mosaic would work in the space,” Rouh said. “Kate and I are grateful for a chance to show our paradigm of what public art can be–and how it’s greater than we even imagined. Jacksonville is a city of concrete, and to us, that concrete is all prime opportunity for community-enhancing mosaic. Our wish is to continue working in this way, and one day have people come to visit Jacksonville to see the incredible public mosaic work throughout our hometown.”
You can view “Mirrored River: Where Do You See Yourself” by Roux Art along the Southbank Riverwalk downtown, directly under the Main Street Bridge.