The process took about a week to complete and required scaffolding to reach the high spots. The public art installation could last several months, depending on nature and humans.
Why paint a giraffe on a tree?
“Because of its size,” Collins says. I wanted it to be a big project, one that is easily seen. If I paint a life-size rabbit, it doesn’t have the same impact as a life-size giraffe.”
Why paint this giraffe in Munn Park?
“It’s in the largest gallery in Lakeland, in terms of capacity and the number of people who potentially will see it,” Collins said.
It’s also emblematic. Collins has been sticking his neck out for art for years, sometimes to the consternation of city staffers.
It all began when he used chalk paint to paint a swan on the pavement between two light poles in the park – without permission.
City staff pressure-washed it away.
“I didn’t think I needed permission to paint a swan on the damn sidewalk,” Collins said as he laughed. “Kids have been doing it for years. Why can’t adults do it?”
A public works representative told Collins that employees couldn’t be expected to know the difference between graffiti and a public art project.
“So I googled to find the most recognizable painting and painted that on the sidewalk,” he said.
City staff pressure-washed “Starry Night” away almost immediately.
Collins went rogue a third time with a public art project that garnered media attention, and residents embraced. He painted the light poles throughout downtown Lakeland after wrapping them in plastic to avoid damaging city property. For the next several days, he and others wheeled a paint-filled cart around Munn Park and invited passers-by to paint a light pole. Many obliged.
“It was property that was going to be destroyed anyway, so I guess that’s why they didn’t mention it,” Collins said.
He wasn’t done yet. His next act of artistic civil disobedience was painting a scene on the windows of a privately owned building in the 100 block of North Kentucky Avenue.
Lakeland police officers occasionally looked on while Collins painted, but took no action, he said. Perhaps they felt the same way many downtown merchants and visitors felt about this art project: It covered up the clutter that had been visible inside the building for years and was a bit of an eyesore.
Julie Townsend, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, quietly watched the public reaction to these stunts and noted how many of them became social media sensations locally – particularly the painted light poles.
“We couldn’t have purchased the kind of publicity (downtown Lakeland) got from that,” Townsend said.
She set about to find a way to bring more of this type of art to downtown in a manner that didn’t stifle Collins’s creativity, but also didn’t leave city staff feeling like they had a loose cannon on their hands.
Townsend approached the LDDA board with a proposal to pull the proper permits and “take responsibility” for a public art project, and let Collins do what he does best: paint.
And that’s how there came to be a giraffe in Munn Park.
“If one of our jobs is to market downtown, we could run an ad and say, ‘Come downtown because it’s cool,’ or we could sponsor something that makes you say that yourself,” Townsend said.
Collins said he would like to say he did all of this for the community. He didn’t.
“I did it for my ego,” he said as he laughed. “Why does any artist do what they do?”
However, he hopes his actions and this recent outcome create a pathway for other artists to approach the city with ideas for public art projects. Until then, he is likely to continue doing similar projects that feed his ego while also bringing enjoyment to the community.
“Right now I have this coloring book that’s really big and nobody can color in it but me,” he said.