Hundreds of golden birds hidden around Gainesville. Pianos popping up for the public. Murals hanging at the Olympic Park. Sculptures at Hall County headquarters.
In 2018, Vision 2030’s public art committee is making a huge step toward its overarching goal: “art everywhere.” The committee will place more than 70 pieces of art in 2018, said chairman Frank Norton Jr.
It’s the “year of the multiple” for the committee, Norton said, when years of planning and brainstorming hit the ground in Gainesville.
At the root of the dozens and dozens of pieces that will be displayed, installed and hidden around the area this year is a desire to make Gainesville feel like home.
“When I was a kid, the only time we spent time on the square was when there was Mule Camp or Corn Tassel, when there was some sort of event,” said Whitney Brown, head of the public art planning subcommittee with Vision 2030. “I remember feeling like most of the shops on the square were kind of stuffy. What was it, ‘Daddy’s Money,’ or something like that? Places I would never go.”
Brown, formerly Whitney Syfan, is in her mid-30s and works as a lawyer in Hunt Tower overlooking downtown. After finishing law school, she spent one year in New York City and years in Atlanta before returning to Gainesville.
“I used to live in Candler Park, and then I lived in Kirkwood. One of the things I think most people really like, especially in those types of neighborhoods, is it’s really walkable, it’s really laid-back and you can just stumble upon these really creative works of art along the way,” Brown told The Times in early March. “You’ve got the tiny houses that are installed all over town. You might come across something made by Cat Lanta.”
Public art need not be grand or expensive. Fixed in Brown’s memory from her time in Kirkwood is a utility pole — set in boring concrete and one of many identical millions. But on this pole someone had nailed a bit of folk art, a small piece of public art that peeled people away from their phones and instilled in the area a “sense of place,” as Norton describes the effect of public art.
“It was fun just to see that — it was what made my neighborhood mine,” Brown said.
Vision 2030 is hoping to recreate those moments in Gainesville with art projects from grand to tiny, and some with a use (think bike racks) to others with no use other than to pose a question: “What do I want to do before I die?”
Fitting in the palm of your hand, hundreds of golden birds have been tucked around town waiting to be found — but not removed — by the public. The project is a fundraiser for the committee, and the birds can be purchased in couples for $100; one goes to the buyer and the other is hidden in the field.
The official name of the project is BURDS: Brenau Urban Rural Discovery Secrets. They were designed by Carmen Garcia-Pitarch Lopez, an interior design student at Brenau University. The project name is a nod to former Brenau President Jack Burd, who is a member of the public art committee.
If birds aren’t your thing, how about pianos?
“We have a Play Me Now program of painted pianos that a number of cities around the country have,” Norton said. “Stationary and mobile pianos that would be mobile for various civic events and community events and stationary in that we hope to put one in the senior center and in a number of permanent locations painted by artists.”
The goal is to have six pianos placed around the community by the end of 2018. Committee members are organizing an endowment to pay to keep them tuned in perpetuity, according to Norton.
Along with new interactive projects, panel art will continue to pop up around town.
Vision 2030 continues its partnership with Hall Area Transit. About 15 bus stops now have a piece of art installed, and another half-dozen are planned for 2018.
Downtown and at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park, the public art committee will be installing new pieces of free-range art.
“We currently have 15, 16 pieces of 8 feet by 8 feet blowups of smaller works of art that are attached to buildings,” Norton said. “We will be adding we hope five by the end of the year.”
The panels going up at the Olympic Park will have a rowing theme, according to Brown, and new panels are being installed near the existing art on an outer wall of Hunt Tower.
“I think that’s going to be a cool addition to downtown. Everybody is always on their phone, but one thing that always makes people look up from their phone is when they find something they can post on Instagram,” Brown said, laughing.
Black boxes are also showing up around town, including at the Olympic Park. With chalk on hand and a blank canvas, the boxes pose a question for passersby: “What do I want to do before I die?”
At the end of 2018, and what is stacking up to be an onslaught of art, the average person won’t be able to take a walk downtown without running into a piece of public art. And as condos and apartments are built downtown in the next 18 months, the new residents will soon feel very much at home.
“The slower pace of life, the quality of life, the character of the community are very important to why you want to settle there,” Norton said. “And public art helps shape that character.”