Public art is coming to the Dunbar community. What it will be, who will make it and where it will go will be all be considered during a roundtable discussion by community leaders and the Fort Myers Public Art Committee at its meeting on Tuesday, January 15, 2013.
At present, there are no public artworks in the Dunbar community. The only tribute to the man for whom the community was named is a bust that’s part of The Harborside Collection that adorns seven niches along the Event Center’s north promenade.
According to the plaque beneath his bust, “Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1872 and lived there until his death in 1906. In this short period, he proved to be a prolific poet, being among the first black poets to be published.” His only connection to Fort Myers is that the new, segregated school completed east of downtown in 1926 was named for him. The Dunbar School eventually gave its name to the surrounding community, which had been known as “Pinetucky” or “Safety Hill” until that time.
Dunbar wrote a dozen books of poetry, four books of short stories and five novels. His essays and poems were published widely in the leading journals of the day, including Harper’s Weekly, The Saturday Evening Post, The Denver Post, Current Literature and a number of other publications. Even wrote the lyrics for In Dahomey – the first musical to appear on Broadway written and performed entirely by African-Americans. One of the more successful theatrical productions of its time, the musical comedy successfully toured England and America over a period of four years beginning in 1903.
But the community’s new public artwork need not necessarily pay homage to its namesake. Rather than determining the theme, type (mural, mosaic, sculpture etc.) and location of the artwork itself, the Public Art Committee would rather hear what the community wants.
PAC member Gwen Middlebrooks is excited by the prospect of having public art in the Dunbar Community and has already escorted the Committee’s public art consultant Barbara Hill around the neighborhood to show her possible sites for the artwork. While Middlebrooks favors a mural on one of the exterior walls of the Clemente Park History Center that depicts individuals and leaders who have lived in the community, she is eager to hear the ideas voiced on January 15 by other Dunbar residents.
Once a consensus is reached, the Public Art Committee will issue a call to artists who wish to tender their qualifications to do the project.
“Part of what the Committee has to determine is whether the call will go out just to local artists or will be expanded to include regional, statewide or even national applicants,” explains Barbara Hill, who was rehired to provide advice to the Committee in October. Hill also served as the Committee’s consultant from 2006-2010, a period that saw the initiation of projects that included Parallel Park by New York abstract expressionist Marylyn Dintenfass and Fire Dance by internationally-acclaimed proto-architectural sculptor David Black.
The Committee received resumes from 162 artists throughout the United States in connection with Fire Dance, which was installed in Centennial Park in January and officially dedicated this past March. The Committee could receive a large response for the Dunbar project as well, especially if community leaders and business owners throw their support behind the project.
The Committee is also moving forward with a project called Marks and Brands that will commemorate Fort Myers’ role as a leading cattle producer and exporter during the early part of the 20th Century and will soon be considering the nature, scope and budget for the public artworks that will encircle Fort Myers new river basin.
The PAC meeting is open to the public and the Committee invites interested Dunbar residents, business owners and community leaders to provide their input on January 15. The meeting will be held from 4-6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall, which is located at 2200 Second Street in downtown Fort Myers. For more information, please contact Public Art Committee liaison and Public Works Administrator Donna Lovejoy at 239-321-7217 or email@example.com.