But larger cities around the country have experienced two important benefits that are interesting when thinking about the future of public art in Downtown Lakeland: publicity and income.
Downtown Lakeland has experienced its fair share of art-related publicity recently (read about the downtown giraffe, the Polk Museum of Art’s Introspection, and a proposed mural project for some examples), and perhaps this has generated a bit of income for businesses, as well.
“Investments in public art are not just for cultural or aesthetic purposes; they also can have a positive bottom-line economic impact, with material financial benefits to their owners. Good art is good business, according to Urban Land magazine.
When you’re in search of a free, fun activity for yourself, your family, or visiting guests, consider a tour of Downtown Lakeland’s outdoor sculptures. This is a great bicycles tour. Bring your own, or rent from one of the Swan City Cycles stations.
Here is a suggested route (you can view it via a Google Map walking tour here), complete with details of what you’ll see along the way:
Start at the Beginning
The storytelling advice of the March Hare in Alice in Wonderland fits well for our tour. Where better to begin an outdoor sculpture tour than at the Polk Museum of Art? The museum’s sculpture garden recently gained a new addition: “Introspection.” Created by Gino Miles, this curling, swirling metal sculpture invites you to give it a spin – literally. The sculpture moves!
A Swan City Cycles station is located at the museum, and from there, you can ride west to The Lakeland Center.
Swans, Swans Everywhere
Swans are an iconic fixture in Downtown Lakeland, and in addition to the real ones you’ll see at Lake Morton, swans are depicted in lots of artwork throughout the city.
Many of the swan sculptures you’ll pass on your ride to our next suggested stop, are part of Swansation, an Explorations V Children’s Museum fundraiser held in 2003. Sixty-two fiberglass swans were part of this exhibition, and many of them remain today at various Downtown locations, including the Terrace Hotel, Wells Fargo bank, Heritage Park, and around Lake Morton.
At The Lakeland Center, check out the giant mushroom-like sculpture named “Eternity” to the west of the building. It contains a time capsule that was filled in 1976 and will be opened in 2076.
From there, make your way to Veteran’s Park, which features monuments dedicated to those who have fought in various wars and conflicts.
The park features numerous sculptures, including three named “Honor,” “Duty” and “Sacrifice,” which were created by student artists. They honor veterans, police, fire fighters, and emergency responders. These sculptures are the result of collaboration between the Polk County Veterans Council and Platform Art.
Don’t Pick the Blood Red Navels
Now it’s time to head to the heart of Downtown. Ride east along Orange Street, and you’ll be treated to some sassy animals and fruits nestled in the tiles of a mural that spans both sides of the Orange Street bridge. Read the comment bubbles and be entertained. This mural was a two-part installation funded by Platform Art.
Continue down Orange Street and once you hit South Florida Avenue, go one block north to Lemon Street.
When Life Hands You Lemons…
…name a street after them and add art. Welcome to the Lemon Street Promenade, home of the Florida Outdoor Sculpture Competition. Since 2000, the Polk Museum of Art has worked with Lakeland and other Florida cities to organize annual exhibitions of outdoor sculptures in public spaces. The sculptures are created by artists from throughout the country, and rotate out annually.
From Lemon Street, head one block north along Massachusetts Avenue and you’ll see the 8-foot tall Mute Swan Protecting her Cygnets in Overlook Park. This bronze sculpture is a replica of a smaller piece by Ian G. Brennan, official sculptor to the queen of England, and was donated to the city by Sandra Trattner and Steve Wolfson. The city unveiled it in 2012.
See Ya Later, Alligator
It’s time to pedal around the north side of the lake (enjoy that sweet downhill coasting opportunity, too) to see a sculpture that honors Blinky the alligator, who served as Lakeland’s unofficial mascot in the 1960s and 1970s. He’s long gone, but his life at Lake Mirror is commemorated with an alligator sculpture made of mechanical junk at one of his favorite sunning spots next to the Amtrak station.
Another sculpture of Blinky is located in Barnett Family Park, which also is located near Lake Mirror.
Honoring the Volunteer Spirit
Remember that statement in the beginning about art being appreciated or criticized? Noted sculptor Albert Paley’s 35-foot-tall, 18,000-pound “Tribute to the Spirit of Volunteerism” brought cheers and jeers following its dedication in April 2004, and they continue today. Love it or not, it is the tallest and most expensive piece of public art erected in Polk County to date.
Munn Park is a great spot to take a break on your self-guided sculpture tour, because there’s a Swan City Cycles station where you can turn in your bicycles or just park them for a bit. You’re in the heart of Downtown, which offers plenty of options for grabbing a bite to eat and a beverage. You also can do a bit of shopping.
Look into the trees at the southeast corner of the park and you’ll see “Feng Shui,” a coldcast bronze sculpture that balances on a slackline. This creation by Miami Beach artist Jerzy Kedziora seems to fascinate all who see it. It was part of the 2014 Florida Outdoor Sculpture Competition, and it was so popular, the City of Lakeland purchased it.
As of the writing of this article, there’s one last outdoor art piece in Munn Park that you must see. Lakeland artist David Collins has been sticking his neck out for the arts for years, and his giraffe painted on a giant camphor tree on the south end of the park is his expression of that. This is a temporary art piece that he completed in February, and it will remain as long as it holds up.
You’ll find additional sculptures along your self-guided tour that we didn’t mention, so keep your eyes peeled.