On the west lawn of the Alachua County Courthouse, there is a 12-by-12 foot slab where a Confederate statue once stood. Three years and seven sculpture proposals later, the plot remains vacant.
Now, Alachua County has turned to residents for ideas to fill the plot. The county began a contest for residents to submit their ideas on the county’s website July 21, said assistant county manager Gina Peebles.
The winning design will fill the plot where Old Joe, a Confederate statue, stood for 113 years until the county commission voted to remove it. When it was taken down in 2017, it was given to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the same organization that erected it.
“You don’t need to be an artist to submit an idea,” Peebles said. “We’re okay with rough sketches from not-artistic people because, ultimately, the artist will take that rough idea and create a beautiful, finished product.”
The contest comes after the county commission rejected seven design proposals submitted by artists in early July. The commission wasn’t satisfied with the designs because of the historical implications they would have, Peebles said.
Two of the art pieces were of trees, and the county was concerned that the trees would have unintended meaning, Peebles said. Trees are associated with lynchings, and most victims of lynchings, especially in the Southern U.S., were Black.
“With civil unrest in the nation right now, we just thought that maybe trees on that particular corner of the courthouse, where a confederate statue once stood, would lead to misunderstanding,” Peebles said.
The top three submissions will be selected at the Alachua County Arts Council’s meeting on Sept. 7, according to a county press release. They will then be forwarded to the county commission for a final decision.
The winner will receive $1,000 of the project’s $40,000 budget, Peebles said. The rest of the money will go to the art’s installation.
The county commission doesn’t favor any specific themes, Sexton said. The artwork shouldn’t reflect a historical event or figure but instead be beautiful and avoid creating controversy, Peebles said. The commission’s vision is for the artwork to be a focal point of the intersection between University Avenue and Main Street, she added.
“They want something that can be seen whether you’re driving in the car or if you’re walking in the sidewalk,” Peebles said. “Something that will grab people’s attention and make them want to stop and look at it.”