David Collins

When David Collins used chalk to draw a swan on a Munn Park sidewalk a few years ago, city workers power-washed it away the next morning. This week, as he’s painting a 20-foot giraffe on a nearby tree, he’s enjoying the blessing — and even support — of city officials.

The city of Lakeland and the Downtown Development Authority are helping with the scaffolding and insurance for the public art project, which Collins plans to complete in time for next week’s First Friday.

Why a life-size giraffe? “Because of its size — it’s good to be seen — and because it is a symbol of sticking your neck out for what you believe,” Collins said. “I believe that the arts can and should lead the city of Lakeland into the future.”

Julie Townsend, head of the downtown development authority, echoed him. “The LDDA wants to encourage art of all kinds in downtown, so when an artist reaches out to us with an idea for a project, we want to have a process in place to help with following the rules and regulations of the city,” she said. “The giraffe is the kick-off pilot project and we are calling it sticking your neck our for the arts.  I think that is an appropriate way to describe this partnership.”

LDDA is adding the project to its insurance and working with the city to provide scaffolding, which is being assembled by parks workers.

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Collins, 67, attracted plenty of questions from passersby this morning when he started the project near the Main Street sidewalk. The first phases are wrapping the lower portion of the tree with a plastic wrap and painting it with a tree-colored exterior latex primer.

After the scaffold goes up, he’ll extend the wrap higher and texture the base pain to resemble tree bark. Then comes the lifelike rendering of a Masai giraffe.

“It’s painting in public. It’s performance art. You’ve got to live with what you put on the street,” he said.

Collins is paying for the two rolls of pallet wrap and paint and donating his time, but said he hopes to find a way other artists can get paid to create public art.

Collins started painting 10 years ago after a career in industrial chemical sales and management. The Paint Along Studios he owned in downtown Lakeland for several years has moved to Winter Haven after he sold it to an east Polk artist who had worked with him.

For now, he’s starting to plan his next public art installation — planned for the north Main Street a block west of Florida Avenue — and grateful for support from city officials.

“I’m extremely pleased with the change of attitudes that are occurring under (new City Manager) Tony Delgado’s leadership and am excited about new things to come,” he said.

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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