Orlando's Iconic Art

Eight new sculptures around Lake Eola Park invite visitors to explore downtown.

In the city’s urban center, See Art Orlando recently installed eight outdoor sculptures, making a big statement downtown. The project came about when Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and civil engineer and art lover Jennifer Quigley were brainstorming about what would make the city better—what would bring pride, boost the economy and strengthen the city’s cultural core? Their answer: outdoor public sculpture.

“When I ran for office in 2003, one of the planks of my campaign was the revitalization of downtown,” says Mayor Dyer. “If you look at other cities our size, they have iconic sculptures—the bean in Chicago, the love statue in Philadelphia—we didn’t have that in Orlando.”

The two put together a volunteer board to raise $1.5 million in private funds, and See Art Orlando was born. The group held an international call to artists, literally searching the globe for the most intriguing pieces to represent the city’s creative and multi-cultural population.

“We wanted the best from around the world,” says Quigley. “Orlando is a world-class, contemporary city that people want to live in, work in and enjoy. We are definitely a melting pot.”

See Art Orlando received responses from artists in 36 states and 16 countries. See Art Orlando whittled the list to eight artists, then sent them off to design and build their sculptures.

“We brought them all in town at once,” recalls Quigley. “We kept the project under wraps because we really wanted to surprise the community.”

The sculptures came from as far away as China and were as large as 30 feet tall, 40 feet long and weighing more than 20 tons. Each was installed around Lake Eola, downtown’s public park, and the collection is walkable in less than an hour. The pieces range from a kinetic sculpture that dances in the breeze to a whimsical statue with two, clown-like feet strategically placed near the playground.

“Every one of the artists did a terrific job, and every piece exceeded my expectation,” says Mayor Dyer. “They really make for an iconic Orlando collection.”

Most of the sculptures are lighted using an LED-programming module that’s connected to City Hall, allowing the city to evoke a mood over downtown. For Magic basketball games, the city turns blue; for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the city is transformed to pink.

Local artist Jacob Harmeling was also selected for the project. His piece, “Cedar of Lebanon,” is a three-story-high, 14,000-pound tree, which Harmeling built in his downtown studio by bending and welding scrap metal and old railroad track. The project took tremendous strength and was completed in just eight months.

“I had the idea of using the tree to reflect the city’s natural beauty and diversity,” says Harmeling. “It’s like a family tree where everyone can see themselves. You don’t have to sit there and ask ‘what is it,’ but rather ‘what more do you see in it?’”

Jacob’s wife, Jacque, calls the project a labor of love and says her husband rose to the occasion because of the pride in his hometown. “He wanted to leave his mark,” she says.

While the Harmelings are proud to showcase Jacob’s work, their biggest takeaway is the friends they gained.

“The best part of the entire build was that so many artists came out of the woodwork to help,” says Jacque, who was a welder on the project. “It’s a real artist community. Everybody has each other’s back.”

The works of See Art Orlando are getting recognized across the globe. All the families of the international artists flew in for the grand opening. Groups from across the country are requesting tours of the works, and many cities are looking on to replicate the program in their hometowns. Meg White, sculptor of The Muse of Discovery, a 40-foot-long limestone goddess who wears a dress of living vines, has won international accolades. (Legend has it that sitting in the palm of the Muse summons inspiration.)