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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Gainesville sister city program pursues statue construction after initial rejection

Students from Gainesville and Duhok, Iraq, worked together on an art submission through a virtual exchange program

Graphic by Alex Brown
Graphic by Alex Brown

Alachua County called on artists to design art centered around the concept of a megaphone. 

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners received 19 submissions. All were rejected, and a Martin Luther King Jr. statue is now the new artwork concept for the west lawn of the Alachua County Administration Building. 

An anonymous citizen offered to match up to $50,000 if the county chooses to have a Martin Luther King Jr. statue created for the west lawn, according to Gina Peebles, Alachua County assistant county manager and chief of staff. The proposed statue concept contrasts a prior requirement that the project could not honor a person, according to the county’s website. Peebles said the current budget with county and donor funds for the Martin Luther King Jr. artwork concept is at $76,000.

The county plans to pursue a bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. for the 12-by-12-foot concrete slab on the west lawn. A Confederate statue stood on the corner for over a century but was removed with funds from the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 2017, Peebles said.

A draft for a new call to artists for a Martin Luther King Jr. statue is set to be presented to the Alachua County Arts Council June 7, Peebles said.

One of the rejected submissions was a sculpture to commemorate Gainesville’s relationship with its sister cities. The sculpture was a collaboration between middle school students from P.K. Yonge, a public school affiliated with the University of Florida, and high school students from Duhok, Iraq, a Gainesville sister city. It featured an interpretation of a megaphone and an interactive component to play videos from Gainesville’s sister cities.

The students designed the sculpture during a Fall 2020 virtual exchange program coordinated by Sister City Program of Gainesville Inc., a nonprofit that manages Gainesville’s relationships with its sister cities, according to the organization’s website.

Gainesville and Duhok became sister cities in 2006, and the relationship was renewed March 8 by Mayor Lauren Poe and Duhok Gov. Ali Tatar. The cities seek to collaborate by exploring economic, educational and cultural opportunities, according to the Sister City Program of Gainesville Inc. website.

“I hope my art work will inspire people to learn more about our Sister Cities and how close we are,” Gainesville student Bella Cline stated in the submission letter for the program’s sculpture. “I hope that it will be a physical reminder that brings joy to not only us, but to our friends around the world who we hope to meet in person one day.”

Though the students’ submission was rejected, they still bonded through Zoom over food, video games and soccer player Lionel Messi. 

“Meeting people from other countries through only a click on a device was such a good idea,” Duhok student Adam Ali, 15, said. “Sharing cultures, sharing experiences, sharing knowledge from one city to another — I was really interested in that part.”

Duhok student Sheni Sabri, 17, said she was happily surprised Gainesville students were open and willing to speak with her. She said their openness and interest made her feel comfortable talking about her culture. 

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“It’s such a big deal that we got to have this representation and that we were the ones who got to represent our city and our country to people who had no idea Kurdistan even existed,” Sabri said. “It felt like an honor to be able to do that.”

Mark Sexton, Alachua County’s communications director, said he appreciated the submission from the students but said the piece was not the right fit for the west lawn.

Even though the board rejected the submission from the students, some commissioners said they could see the interactive sculpture fitting somewhere else in Gainesville.

After the meeting, Terrence Ho, who was a teacher at P.K. Yonge and is now artistic director of the Sister City Program of Gainesville Inc., said the county reached out and connected him with the city to discuss a possible collaboration. Ho said he doesn't know when or where the sculpture may be created but is optimistic that the interactive sculpture will be built.

Contact Antonia LaRocca at alarocca@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @antoniarlarocca.

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Antonia LaRocca

Antonia LaRocca is a staff writer at The Alligator.


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