Local Activists Bring Art Ventures To Gainesville
By Christine Flammia
It all began with a rooster.
The rooster, made of scrap metal and old machinery, atop a 10-foot-tall pole, was forgotten on a seemingly abandoned property. To local community activists Nava Ottenberg and Mary Rockwood Lane, it was not just a lonely rooster — it was a work of art.
With a little help from the community and each other, Lane and Ottenberg originally brought the rooster, created by Peruvian sculptor Victor Delfín, and other artwork to downtown Gainesville in 2012. What started as a plan to increase public art has evolved into a comprehensive part of the community.
Ottenberg, who has spearheaded the initiative, secured plans for the next installment last week. She owns a vintage clothing store, Persona, downtown on Southeast Second Place. There is a service alley behind her store lined with barren cinder block walls. Where a passerby might see concrete, Ottenberg sees a canvas.
“There’s a lot of downtown people aren’t aware of,” Ottenberg said. “We’re so driven by our tasks, we don’t stop. We don’t even see. It doesn’t take a lot of time to give art a new view and enjoy it. It’s very fulfilling, and it’s very enriching. That’s the whole purpose of art.”
Local artist Milan Hooper will paint the wall shades of yellow, orange and red. There will also be two sculpture installments: one 6-foot-long fish sculpture by artist Mark Armbrecht mounted to the wall and the other an 8-by-4-foot fishbone by John Andrews that will be freestanding.
Ottenberg said she is working on getting a third sculpture for the wall, but the details have yet to be solidified. She said she hopes to complete the project in March, and adding the wall will increase community connectivity and encourage locals to explore the town and appreciate the art.
“This gives you a full circle where you get a reason to walk a little farther,” she said. “Just jumping from the next thing to the next thing doesn’t have the same effect as having an area to walk around.”
Lane, the project’s other initiator, was driven by similar ideals.
“Not only does it create art in the street, but it creates the community,” she said. “We create the community that we live in.”
The rooster is now sitting outside the Starbucks in downtown Gainesville. It is one of 14 sculptures that have since been installed in a circle around downtown businesses.
“I believe art is alive,” said Lane, a community activist. “You can just feel the moment that rooster had its place; it was where it was supposed to be. And it was happy. It became alive.”
Local organizations have noticed. Next month, the sculptures will be marked on the map for Artwalk Gainesville, a self-guided tour of artistic ventures in Gainesville.
Txong Moua, the arts coordinator for Artwalk and Gainesville Art Scene, said incorporating the initiative in Artwalk will make more people aware of the public art.
“It’s kind of cool when you’re walking and you stumble upon something that you’re like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this was here,’” she said. Including the sculptures will allow people to more easily identify the public artwork.
Locals have also expressed the importance of the flourishing project. Art initiative contributor Jasper North said the endeavor has opened the door for local artistic discussion and debate.
“It adds something to the landscape,” North said. “It creates conversation between two very different social classes. The people that normally wouldn’t speak to each other in the street could strike up a conversation. I think that’s what’s incredible.”