Sunday, June 14, 2015

Public Art is destroyed in Orlando.

I first noticed the ancient light box as I drove to the Orlando International Fringe Festival this year. It was on Mills Avenue just north of the East West Expressway. I must have driven past it hundreds of times before but never noticed it since it blended into the desolate urban landscape on this barren stretch of road. The decades old abandoned light pole was something everyone ignored. But this day was different. It was exotic and beautiful, with porcelain birds perched all over it. Artist Brendan O'Connor had used social media to ask for donations of birds to be added to the sculpture. About 12 people plus the kids at misty forest donated birds. I felt a certain civic pride knowing this was such a community effort. I watched is blossom and grow each day I drove by.

The project titled "Put a Bird on It" was initiated by the Mills 50 District. The next day I spotted Brendan on site in the intense Florida sun with his large straw hat offering come protection as he was adding more tiles to the piece. I desperately wanted to stop and sketch but I had promised to sketch a Fringe show and was running late.

I did get back to the site, but unfortunately Brendan was gone. This sculpture is like a totem to creativity and freedom of expression. Many of the tiles still needed grouting and some pieces were taped in place waiting to be secured. After this sketch was done many colorful plastic flowers were also added to the sculpture. Brendan completed the piece on June 10th and the next day the city destroyed the sculpture under the pretext that it was too close to the street. It had been to close to the street for many decades. They claim to be looking for a new site for the sculpture, but many of the birds were shattered when the pole was felled. Mills 50 had an agreement with the City of Orlando and the Florida Department of Transportation to do whatever they wanted with the light. Some bureaucrat must have felt that the result was too playful and colorful to remain standing. Brendan invested $300 of his own money and volunteered 18 hours of his time over three weeks to create the sculpture that stood for one day before ending up as a pile of crumbs on the sidewalk. The FDOT removed the light box which was put into storage and the ceramic covered pole was left like a body on a battlefield where it fell. Roadside memorials featuring stuffed animals, and flowers ofter remain on Florida roadsides for years, yet this colorful explosion of creativity was considered a threat.

It is far easier to destroy art than to create it. Some people in power are threatened by creativity. As the Nazi party took power, artists, poets and academics were ushered to camps. Free thinking individuals can question policy. Thousands of paintings and sculptures were seized and destroyed because the party didn't understand them. Works of expressionism were considered deviant. Recently ISIS video taped themselves destroying art to prove that they were a force to be reckoned with. The war against art rages on, but now in our own backyard.

All too often I am documenting art in Orlando that is painted over or destroyed. Murals going up all around Orlando seem to be making city officials uncomfortable. They want to edit and veto creativity. A committee was formed to address the problem allowing officials to take down and remove whatever they don't like. The first amendment grants us freedom of speech and we all should be upset when creativity is crushed. I'm beginning to think I need to find a more progressive city to sketch and report about. Orlando seems intent on going back to the dark ages.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


mikki mouth said...

brendan seems to be one of those lovely people that may very well feel more appreciated in another city. i'd hate to lose him.

Thor said...

I don't think Brendan has any intention of moving.