Penguin for your Thoughts?

Citizens of Mount Dora are engaging with the newest public art installation on Clayton Street.

Mount Dora has a new public art installation on Clayton Street.  It’s at the edge of the city, right before the Orange County line.

The installation, the creation of the Cracking Art Group based in Italy, is a collection of four penguins. They stand quizzically, somewhat aloofly, outside the gates of Dora Parc – as houses are constructed behind them.

The penguins, in primary red, blue, green and yellow stand a little shy of four feet tall.  Each has its own pedestal from which to eye passersby.  And you will eye them back, it’s inevitable.

Whether it’s the incongruity of seeing penguins perched in front of a magnolia in the middle of Central Florida, or the intensity of the collective color palette of this resplendent waddle (a waddle is the name given to a group of penguins on land) there is little chance of missing the group.

The penguins were purchased and installed by the developer of Dora Parc in accordance with Mount Dora’s public art program, under the purview of the city’s Public Arts Commission and the Mount Dora city council.

The public art program and commission were established by city ordinance in 2008. According to the enabling ordinance, the program and the commission are designed to benefit the public by establishing guidelines and procedures by which public art may be used to further Mount Dora’s commitment to the benefits of aesthetic and cultural enrichment through the arts.

Social media reaction to the installation has been fast and furious.  From Facebook to Snapchat and Instagram, lovers and haters of the installation have been actively responding to the world. Film clips and photos with bold opinions and attached hashtags are popping up all over the city.

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Liz Wincup, chairperson of the Mount Dora public arts commission is pleased to hear there is engagement and reaction.  “Oh, I am so happy to hear people are reacting.  I felt they would.  I am very familiar with the Cracking Art Group.  I lived in Brussels and they are well known there – and their works are widely displayed throughout Europe, America and Asia.  This group has work displayed in Miami, Milan, Brussels, San Francisco, Tel Aviv…and now, we can add Mount Dora to that list,” she says.

Asked one of the obvious questions, ‘why penguins’ – she responds immediately. “When I first saw them, I thought ‘why penguins?’, also.  I thought, ‘why not gators’.”

“But,” she continues, “then I thought about our snowbirds.  Mount Dora has always been a snowbird destination.  It’s part of our history, part of who we are.  This was a fun, whimsical way to honor our snowbirds and our snowbird heritage.”

“I like the overall mission of the artists, as well,” Wincup explains, “they have a strong mission of trying to change the way people typically do things by, themselves, using recycled materials in making their own art. Also, they create only a limited number of each piece they cast before they destroy the mold.”  Wincup goes on to relate that one of the many reasons the penguins are so special to her and were so interesting to the developer, is that they are the last castings from their mold.  “There will be no more,” she says.

Wincup acknowledges that the penguins will not be to everyone’s taste.  “I probably wouldn’t want them in my living room,” she chuckles, “but they really do make me smile, they are so playful.”  Besides which, she says, “They met all the criteria established by the public arts ordinance – and the installation is creating controversy, engaging people in emotions and causing a reaction in the community.  Art is subjective,” she says, “the arts commission isn’t supposed to and doesn’t want to determine what art is or isn’t.  Our job is to vet the artists’ experience, review the money invested in the project by the developer, and confirm the artists’ reputations in their field.”

Interviewing people in Mount Dora brought on extreme,  varied opinions that ran the entire ‘love’ to ‘hate’ range.  And maybe, after all, that’s why Mount Dorans insist on having art within their community.  It engages us, provides us with a different point of view on our world – be it a boldly jarring or calmly relaxing experience, we all need our world shaken up a bit from time to time – to see things from another perspective, consider other possibilities. Penguins sitting on a perch on Clayton Street will do that.

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Learn more about the Cracking Art Group, and their mission: here.

Melissa DeMarco (editor@mountdoracitizen.com)