A Downtown Walking Tour of Orlando's Public Art
By Sandra Ketcham
In Orlando, public art is everywhere; it's integrated into architecture, city parks, public buildings and streetscapes. You can't visit Orlando without encountering sculptures, murals, fountains or a piece of street furniture.
Travel into the city on a sunny day and spend an hour or two wandering downtown's tree-lined streets. You'll discover Orlando's impressive public art collection and sample its diversity of styles, settings and media.
If you arrive downtown by car, park in the garage at Liberty Avenue and Jackson Street. Inside is a vibrantly colored, multi-story mobile by Dorothy Gillespie called Celestial Joy.
Or, park in one of the surface lots near the Amway Center to check out 97 feet of hand-sculpted human figures on the northwest side of the GEICO Garage. This sculpture by Bill Starke, titled Our Journey, represents discovery and achievement.
A few blocks away, at 400 S. Orange Ave., City Hall features a number of indoor exhibits and outdoor sculptures. Don't miss Legacy, a sculpture gifted to the city by the Legacy Soccer Foundation, or Stairway by Robert Woods. Inside, browse two large galleries open to the public. Just across South Street, inside the SunTrust Tower, is a hanging sculpture of circus acrobats designed by George Segal.
Further north along Orange Avenue, in front of Chase Plaza in downtown Orlando, are multiple ethereal sculptures by Vietnamese artist Tuan Nguyen. More of his work is located inside the building and in front of Corona Cigar Co.
Cross Pine Street and pause inside the main entrance of City Arts Factory to enjoy two bold, black-and-white murals by Andrew Spear, an Orlando artist known for his provocative, large-scale work that decorates buildings throughout the city, including the Hideaway Bar in Ivanhoe Village. While you're at City Arts, check out the varied exhibits that rotate monthly. Admission to City Arts is free Tuesday through Saturday, though a donation of $5 is always appreciated.
A few blocks northeast of City Arts, in front of the Orange County Regional History Center (65 E. Central Blvd.), is a pop jet fountain and three bronze alligators by sculptor Scott Shaffer. This urban park, called Heritage Square, is surrounded by towering cypress trees and is a tranquil place for a picnic lunch while on your walking tour through downtown.
At the intersection of Washington Street and Magnolia Avenue, you'll find a four-story collection of prints depicting Sunsets in Orlando in abstract. As you walk along Magnolia, enjoy a full block of murals on the side of the AT&T building. These images tell the story of advances in communication technology over time.
Outside the Orlando Public Library (101 E. Central Blvd.), there's an interactive, multi-dimensional work by Christopher Janney that climbs 40 feet. This musical piece is a big hit with kids and adults alike. Pressing the handprints in the correct order (you'll need to solve a riddle) releases a symphony of sound. Continue down Magnolia and turn left onto Central Boulevard to enter the library. Step inside to enjoy several art and photography exhibits that change periodically.
Head down Central to stroll around beautiful Lake Eola Park, the centerpiece of downtown. You'll find dozens of fountains, memorials and sculptures, including a painted bronze fountain decorated with swans and a whimsical sculpture in water called Fantasy Swan. This work is by Thai artist S. Hardthalae and depicts a princess kneeling on her swan. Read the princess's story in a book on the bridge overlooking the fountain.
A few blocks northeast of Lake Eola is the Orange County Courthouse (425 N. Orange Ave.). Here sits Girl with Doves by Richard Hallier and several other sculptures worth seeing. Inside you'll find artwork in nearly every corner and hallway, including several Joseph Pennell’s lithograph prints and Grady Kimsey's mixed media figurative sculptures. Catty-corner from the courthouse is the Bank of America building that houses a replica of Lady Justice by Nicolas Mayer and the Tick Tock Kick Clock by Wendell Castle.
Either walk back to Rosalind Avenue and head south to return to your car, or pick up a Lymmo, Orlando's free bus, at the corner of Orange and Livingston Street. The Lymmo runs every five minutes and is available at many points throughout downtown. Get off at Church Street and Magnolia and walk west to return to the surface lots near the Amway Center.
Head east to Rosalind if you're parked in the Jackson Street garage. In front of the Orange County Administration Center (201 S. Rosalind Ave.), right next to the road, sits The Leaper by Roy Shifrin. On the south side of the building, you'll find Winged Runner, another sculpture by Shifrin. Both of these were cast in Spain and then displayed at SeaWorld Orlando before making their way downtown.
While heading out of the downtown core, watch for painted chairs at bus stops around the city. These colorful pieces of street furniture were salvaged, fixed, painted and donated to bus stops by Brendan O'Connor, a local artist. O'Connor has refurbished an estimated 200 chairs around Orlando since he started the Sit Project in 2008. He describes the chairs as more than just seating; he thinks of them as love letters to Orlando designed “to make people smile and shock them out of their routine.”
You'll also see painted utility boxes scattered around the city. These “art boxes” first showed up in the Mills 50 District north of downtown and have since started appearing all over. Each box is unique and painted by a local artist.
Orlando has more public art to offer than anyone can possibly take in during a single afternoon, and the city has recently announced plans to add nine enormous art installations within a two-mile radius of City Hall. Additionally, initiatives like the Corridor Project make a point of infusing contemporary art and culture into the downtown area with site-specific installations. If you'd like more information on the Corridor Project, drop by Urban ReThink (625 E Central Blvd.). You may even stumble upon some guerrilla art outside the building.
The exploding art scene in Orlando is a testament to the community's passion for art and culture. Orlando is a city of artists with a common goal: to improve and inspire the world around them while enriching the local landscape. When done right, public art “has the ability to completely change a neighborhood or an establishment” according to artist Andrew Spear.
And Orlando is doing it right.