Inspired by the St. Johns River, the looping design of a 151 foot statue proposal that spells out “Jax” or “derp” or maybe something else or maybe nothing at all – depending on your perspective – divided public opinion as surely as the river divides Jacksonville.
On the one hand, fans of the $ 18 million sculpture say it would put a unique Jacksonville stamp on the city’s identity when people saw it, whether in person or on television, while attracting downtown folks for selfies in the reflection of its polished stainless steel.
This view of the statue made the Perkins & Will team stand out last month in a hotly contested design competition on how to transform the downtown lot where Jacksonville Landing once stood into a park of world class.
Following:Perkins & Will wins design competition for Riverfront Plaza where Jacksonville Landing once stood
On the other side of public opinion, an online petition this week surpassed 20,000 signatures from people begging city leaders to remove the design because it would make Jacksonville a national punchline that just attracts “shame and disgrace. jokes at our expense “.
As if to prove this point, online company Rock ‘Em Socks, which sells bespoke shoes, began selling socks in late July with images of the sculpture sewn on as well as various words that people have found in renditions of sculpture: lax, derp, lerp, lex and lox.
Company founder Rob Starkman said after seeing all the shocking and conflicting interpretations on social media about the statue, the socks “don’t care that no one can really figure out” what she says.
The socks arrived at the town hall this week. When a pair arrived at Mayor Lenny Curry’s office on Thursday, he tweeted: “Can’t wait to rock the socks” with the hashtag #ILoveJax.
Where does all this buzz leave plans for sculpture?
Curry said more about the socks than the sculpture, which is estimated to cost $ 18 million. The city has no money set aside for this. Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer said the expense is expected to be “largely privately funded” through donations.
In the meantime, the city will work with the Perkins & Will team over the next year to flesh out a final design and build cost for the 4.5-acre park that would have a central lawn, children’s play area, and a wading pool, sky garden patio, beer garden and ramp for walking and biking to the nearby Main Street Bridge.
The Perkins & Mill design includes an elevated area with stairs leading up to a large foundation where the statue could stand if the city goes ahead with public art.
âUltimately, the city will have to decide if we want something – be it this piece of art or another – that becomes an icon for the downtown and an icon for the city,â Boyer said during the event. ‘a recent meeting of the board of directors of the DIA.
She said the project is “first and foremost a park design” and that is where the focus will be over the next year. The goal will be to complete the design of the park space in time for the city to consider funding it in the 2022-2023 budget.
“The less important part of it all has been the loudest and the most disturbing,” said Bill Adams, DIA board member.
He said wryly that perhaps public art could be based on the well-known dinosaur model that stands outside a Beach Boulevard mall. âI would fully support the installation of a chrome dinosaur there,â he said.
Designed by Jefre, who is based in Orlando and has made larger-than-life pieces for other cities, the art on offer for Riverfront Plaza has a backstory based on Jacksonville’s history and culture.
Boyer said in one interpretation, the design depicts an anchor with a knotted rope attached to it. Jefre described it as a “series of nautical figures with 8 knots of sail”.
“It was a tribute to the Saint John River, to our marine influence and to our maritime history,” said Boyer.
A second interpretation is based on âI Love New Yorkâ but recast into an âI Love Jaxâ version with part of the art in the shape of a heart where the âaâ would be. The highest part of the sculpture would be considered an “I” rather than a “J”.
The third interpretation is that it spells out “Jax” although “you have to look closely to see each of these letters,” Boyer said.
Other details behind the design include that its 151-foot-high peak is equivalent to 1,822 inches, a digital nod to Jacksonville founded in 1822. Its length is 310 feet and the St. Johns River is 310 miles in length. long.
Boyer said as they approached the selection of Perkins & Mill as the design team for the Riverfront Plaza Park, hundreds of people sent written comments to the city’s Professional Services Review Board and their opinions were 5. to 1 in favor of Jefre’s design for the public artwork.
But since then, a change.org online petition has gathered 20,033 supporters through Thursday with its “Stop the ‘Jax’ Sculpture” campaign.
“Jacksonville is being ridiculed nationally for the ‘Jax’ sculpture and the project hasn’t even started,” Jacksonville resident Beau Norton wrote in the petition he launched. “To like or not to like the statue is subjective, but realizing that it invites shame and jokes at our expense is not.”
Supporters of the petition called it a “hideous sculpture” that would be “a total waste of money.”
“I have no problem with a sculpture in the park, but this thing is ugly, easily ridiculed and not by a Jacksonville artist,” wrote a supporter of the petition. “We can do better, especially for the millions of dollars offered to pay for it.”
City council members also heard from residents.
âThe first email I got about this was about this thing called ‘lerp’,â board member Michael Boylan said. âI had no idea what they were talking about. I responded by saying, ‘I’m sorry, what is’ lerp.'”
Boylan, who represents Mandarin, said that when his constituents contact him to complain about city services such as delays in collecting garden waste, some see the proposed sculpture as a symbol of whether the city’s priorities are in the the right order.
âI think we have the ability to do both, but it’s a tough time right now to focus on big things when people say the little things aren’t being addressed,â he said. .
As for the design itself, Boylan said he didn’t want to pass judgment on someone’s creativity.
City council member Matt Carlucci said the more he looks at the design, the more attractive it becomes. He said he was not an artist himself, but his brother is and told him that art requires imagination.
âNow some people might say, ‘Dude, you really got to use your imagination for this one,’ but you know, this one kind of grows on me,â he said.
He said public input could allow adjustments in the design to make it easier to see “Jax” in it.
âWhatever we decide, we have to do it with great excellence, and sometimes great excellence costs money,â he said.
Jacksonville has other stainless steel public art works downtown, such as the 40-foot-tall Great Fire Memorial that rises from base to needle point and the Tillie K. Memorial. 25ft tall Fowler who uses an abstract depiction of an oak tree. Jefre’s design would eclipse those in size, towering as tall as a mid-rise office building.
While it remains to be seen if he will ever be part of the downtown scene, he has made his way into at least one tattoo.
Dustin Burnette of Seas The Day Tattoo & Piercing in the Mayport area used the design of a tattoo he inked on client George Emmerling’s thigh.
Emmerling told Times-Union news partner First Coast News that the controversy over the sculpture’s design convinced him to get a tattoo.
âIt’s a Jacksonville tattoo,â Emmerling said. âIt kind of represents everything about this city, how crazy it is and how fun it is. It was kind of one of those things where I was like, ‘Let’s do it. ! “”
At some point in the future, city leaders will have to decide whether they will do the same.