The woman in the sculpture gazes forward, chin high, eyes focused ahead on the future. Behind her, the golden sun rises.
A new dawn is coming.
When people see Cecilia Lueza’s sculpture on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the artist doesn’t want them to just appreciate her work. She wants them to see a better future — a future where equality and freedom are enjoyed by everyone.
It’ll be a hard message to miss, the St. Petersburg artist admits.
The planned sculpture will stand about 18-20 feet tall in the Dunbar neighborhood (although the exact height is still being worked out).
“It’s a very large piece,” Lueza says. “People aren’t going to miss it at all. … I really hope to inspire people and uplift people in some way.”
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The sculpture — tentatively called “Journey of Hope” — was commissioned by the Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). It’s a collaboration with the city’s public art committee and the Lee County Black History Society.
The aluminum sculpture will stand at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Veronica S. Shoemaker boulevards. Both streets are named after revered civil rights leaders — the internationally known King and late Dunbar businesswoman Shoemaker, the first Black person elected to Fort Myers City Council.
Lueza expects to install the sculpture by the end of the year, but a date hasn’t been set. She says she’ll start fabricating the piece with her husband, Rick Munne, as soon as a formal contract is signed with the City of Fort Myers.
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The sculpture goes hand-in-hand with the CRA’s planned revitalization of the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard corridor, including ongoing projects like the renovation of Dunbar’s historic McCollum Hall.
Phyllis Calloway, assistant director of the CRA, calls the sculpture a “statement piece.”
“We just feel strongly that the piece represents progression and positive growth,” Calloway says. “Dr. King and Veronica Shoemaker were both civil rights activists in their own rights, and we are extremely grateful for their movements.”
The CRA put out a call to artists last summer for a “gateway public artwork” — a piece that people will see on their way in and out of Fort Myers and the Dunbar neighborhood — and they got 66 applicants, according to Tom Hall, the city’s public art consultant.
Three finalists were chosen, and a selection committee initially picked Lueza as the winning proposal in January. Then the CRA confirmed that choice unanimously Feb. 23.
The project has a budget of $98,500, according to the call to artists.
Lueza says she drew inspiration from King and especially Shoemaker for the project. “She was an extraordinary woman.”
She chose the face of an anonymous Black woman for the sculpture and her message of hope and equality.
“It’s a symbol for all women,” Lueza says. “I wanted to represent a woman that symbolizes many women, and African-Americans also.
“I wanted more of an iconic image. It’s not very specific, but more universal.”
The sculpture will be made of thick aluminum and painted with a powder-coat finish, she says. It’ll sit on a 12-foot-diameter circular concrete pad and be lit by solar-powered LED lights.
Calloway says she loves what the sculpture will say about Dunbar and its future. It tells the story of both the past (with its nod to the two civil rights leaders named at that intersection) and the future (with the woman’s determined gaze toward the horizon).
“The piece is electric and revitalizing. It’s new,” Calloway says. “Which I feel captures growing forward. We have history that can’t be changed — and we don’t want to change history — but we have an opportunity to look to a brighter future.”
The sculpture will stand in an open, grassy area about 70 feet south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, between the north and southbound lanes of Veronica S. Shoemaker Boulevard, according to the 2021 call to artists.
Lueza is an Argentinian-American artist who studied visual arts at the University of La Plata in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her work includes paintings, sculpture, murals and monumental installations.
Her public art can be seen all over Florida and other parts of the United States. Since 2013, she has completed nearly 60 public-art installations, Hall said.
Learn more about Lueza and her artwork at lueza.com.
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).