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Leslie ~ Public Arts

“We completed 44 public art projects here in Ocala this year, in 2020, notwithstanding everything."

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“It’s kind of amazing to say this, but we completed 44 public art projects here in Ocala this year, in 2020, notwithstanding everything. All sorts of public art projects, from murals to installations, and outside of the listed 44, hosted performing arts events and gallery exhibitions.

In the spring, we had to re-organize projects, just like everybody did, when we went into lockdown. Many of our major projects were delayed, including the mural we had installed at the new MLK First Responders Campus in West Ocala, a historically Black neighborhood. Delays in construction materials postponed our ability to move forward with the project until completion. The campus has a fire station, police substation, community center, basketball court, meeting and event spaces, and a fire museum. It is a gathering place, for all. For everyone. The mural conveys that. It’s painted on the ground, a huge painting of two fists bumping, one white, one Black. It is aptly named, ‘Common Grounds.’ The artist, Daas, who lives in Florida, completes public art projects across the United States.

Another one of our new murals, of a bear, was completed in May in our downtown. It’s very unusual because it incorporates live plants into the painting. Reflections through Flora is a style of “living art.” The piece is a mural that incorporates custom-fabricated trellises with curated horticulture attached. This piece was a collaboration between international artist Ernesto Maranje (mural), local artist and fabricator Mike Zeak (custom fabricated trellises), and local horticulturist Suzanne Shuffitt (plant curation and installation). Upon completion, the owners of the adjacent building completed a full façade update inclusive of new doors, paint and a beautiful custom awning produced by the artist that fabricated the trellises. It’s really brightened up that corner!

If you look at cities that people want to live in, art plays a huge factor. It's about making things special and unique, and worthy of visiting and worthy of staying due to quality of place. It brings in curious minds, it brings in creative minds, and when you get that started, you get businesses coming in, and it becomes a really solid foundation for a community.

Art events also are part of what we do. For the past 10 years or so, we’ve hosted First Friday Art Walk from May through September. We weren’t able to host this in the spring, of course, because of COVID. But we started it up again in September. Because it's outside, we felt that it would be kind of a good launching point to start up events where social distancing is easily achieved, while providing vibrancy and patronage to recently re-opened small businesses. It was the first event hosted by the City after COVID and we all kind of held our breath. And then it rained and rained and rained that day, which kept the numbers down. Frankly, that wasn’t a bad thing because the lower numbers helped us start off more slowly and showed us things we needed to change and things that we needed to be more aware of. Our second First Friday Art Walk was nice and dry and went very well, after we’d figured out the nuts and bolts of working with COVID and working with the event.

There is so much more going on, and not enough time to tell you about all of it. Like Levitt AMP Ocala Music Series, which we’ve been doing for the past four years. It’s a great concept because it encourages creative placemaking through public and performing arts. Typically, it’s ten consecutive concerts per year and they are held at Webb Field, including varying genres of music. The concerts range from jazz to hip hop, to blues. We are really disappointed that we had to postpone our 2020 series and cannot wait until 2021.

Like I said, we've done 44 public art projects this year with COVID. We don't rest. We are adding public art so fast we currently have 89% more public art per capita than the City Chicago. That's our fun fact that we like to tell people, and we're on track to outpace Chicago in the next five years.” – Leslie #Florida


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