Coming This Fall: 60 Tapestries on Lakeland Buildings

“Tapestries – Lakeland, an Un-Mural Art Exhibition” will spread around 60 large artworks on buildings in downtown, Dixieland and Midtown for a year starting in November.

I have lived in places with a fair amount of artwork scattered about town — mostly graffiti or a very large, pink wall where a flock of influencers can be seen taking pictures for their social media. It wasn’t until a year ago when I moved to Florida, that I could see a difference between the artwork and the community displaying it. It’s refreshing to be able to watch a city and its people working together in order to elevate the neighborhood culture, and celebrate art for arts sake.

Lakeland is no stranger to the art scene or the name David Collins. If his name is not ringing any bells, then perhaps the tree painted as a giraffe in Munn Park in 2016 or the plastic people sculptures around downtown last year will.

More recently, he’s been known for Working Artist Studio and Gallery in Dixieland. Collins’ venue highlights the individual artist in a like-minded community, and now he has something new up his sleeve.

Enter “Tapestries – Lakeland, an Un-Mural Art Exhibition.” A sum of 60 artists are painting tapestries ranging from 6×6 feet to 6×15 feet and will disperse them throughout Downtown Lakeland, Midtown and Dixieland.

This exhibition has a budget of $50,000.00 and is in part publicly funded by local agencies such as The Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency and The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, which both donated $10,000.00, and the Lakeland Area Mass Transit District, which donated $5,000.00.

The tapestries are scheduled to be installed in November and remain through the end of 2019.

I asked Valerie Ferrell of the CRA and the project manager of the exhibition a few questions:

What does the un-mural project mean to you?

Ferrell: The ability to showcase original art is an important part of Lakeland’s culture. We understand the significance of recognizing current city codes and rules, as well as the creative passion many of our Lakelanders possess. This project is a testament to balancing both.

Why did you or the CRA want to be involved in this project?

Ferrell: The CRA continues to diligently transform and support the identity of each of the redevelopment districts. We recognize the influx of creative talent in Lakeland. This project brings together local business and property owners, artists, city officials and staff in a unique way. The centerpieces that are being created will bring a sense of community pride that cannot be bought and builds relationships that otherwise may not exist. The CRA is just one of the partners enlisted for support, alongside the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority and Citrus Connection.

What does the un-mural project mean for Lakeland?

Ferrell: This is an exciting opportunity for large pieces of public art to be on display for a fixed amount of time. Public art has the ability to start conversations, inspire attitudes and feed our souls. This exhibit can be added to the growing number already in our community.

How was the exhibition first proposed to the CRA?

Ferrell: David Collins came to visit Nicole (Travis, until recently the CRA’s executive director) and I at the CRA office. When he walked in the office with a giant roll of what looked like tarps, we knew it would be something exciting. This size and scale of this exhibit will be a noteworthy one.

Can we start seeing more art around town after this exhibition is completed?

Ferrell: Lakeland is already becoming its own grand gallery of sorts. This exhibit will only inspire new ideas and complement the creative hub that is already gaining momentum.

What about this project makes you most excited? 

Ferrell: I am most excited to see the work of some great local artists such as: Aaron Corbitt, Kent McAllister, Ana Lopez and Gabriela Jaxon. I am equally excited to see the work of some new artists and to help build a platform for all beginning artists to work with experienced professionals that can help them shape their skills and expand on future opportunities.

* * *

Artist/pitchman David Collins promotes the project back when he was looking for more painters:

I was curious to learn more about the project, so I reached out to David Collins and snagged a little Q+A about the tapestries and what this means to our community:

How did the 60 tapestries manifest?

Collins: It came about when Robyn Kurdas, one of the Working Artists gave me four 5-foot by 7-foot canvas tarps that had been previously painted on one side and used as backdrops for a theatrical production. Aaron Corbitt, Ana Lopez and I created a one-night event we called a ‘drip out’ where we each created a painting in one evening. The paintings were pretty cool but were not capable of being displayed outside. We had created oversized paintings that few people would be able to hang inside their home or business.

Fast forward to a few months and while working on the exterior of the building that houses the Working Artists Studio and Gallery, I spilled concrete sealer on a canvas drop cloth. The next day, I noticed it had penetrated the top and back of the cloth. Then, by trial and error, I came up with a process that would hold up outside in the extreme Florida elements.

There weren’t many murals downtown, so I decided I’d create portable murals. I thought 10 is a good number and I’d place all of them in one place for impact. I shared my idea with Aaron and Ana and the idea hatched to invite other artists to paint — Let’s paint 60!

What is the significance of the tapestries vs. painting on buildings?

Collins: First off, by definition, a mural is a painting that is painted directly on a building. If you painted directly on a building, you would first have to contact a building owner who would select an artist, discuss a concept, produce a sketch or representation, pressure wash, prep and prime the surface, scaffolding, ladders or lifts. Then, you’d have to consider foot traffic, barricades and safety procedures to not get paint on sidewalks or adjacent property, insurance requirements, etc. What if the building owner is not happy with the finished result?

By painting on a portable surface, the painting is already completed and the building owner only has to decide whether the image suggested for their building is acceptable. The portability of the image makes it easier for building owners to participate. Sixty images would be unattainable if painted on buildings, it would take years to accomplish.

What do you like most about the project?

Collins: That I get to participate, that my art is seen by thousands of people over the course of the exhibition and that many other artists have the same opportunity. It’s going to be huge, Lakeland – huge.

How long can Lakeland enjoy the tapestries?

Collins: There will be an artists reception in an indoor venue where all the paintings can be seen at once in one place tentatively scheduled for Friday, Nov. 2. It will be a ticketed event with live entertainment and refreshments, which will offset the cost of the reception and hopefully be an additional source of funding to help offset the cost of installation. The tapestries will be installed on buildings over the next few weeks following the reception and will be displayed in Lakeland for a year, until the end of 2019.

What are you expectations for the art scene in Lakeland after this exhibition is over? 

Collins: “Expect nothing, appreciate everything,” is a quote by an unknown author that should be considered. I have no idea what to expect. So, let’s discuss hope instead. My hope is that the art scene will continue to grow. I hope the community likes what we’ve done and wants more. I hope that artists that have never participated in public art projects in the past are energized by having participated in this project and that others want to participate in the future.

I hope that after art has been displayed on buildings in our community for a year, that when it comes down, a void will have been created that begs to be filled. I hope that this show, as well as others that I have created, will inspire the creation of many more by any number of creatives living and working in Lakeland. I hope that because we at the center of the state, we become a center for the arts in Florida.

* * *

Photos by Becca Burzlaff

I was able to witness one of the 60 artists, Ana Lopez, who is known for her punk duck art. Painting outside of Hillcrest Coffee, she completed her tapestry in three days.

When asked why she wanted to be involved in the project, Lopez replied, “I think the project is really good for the city, because you don’t really see many artists around unless the art is out there. If you’re casually walking down the street, then you are more engaged with the art.”

You can expect to see this exhibition roll out this coming November, and be sure to keep an eye on #tapestrieslakeland as this project progresses to watch the process.