For six years, they’ve lived in downtown Fort Myers: The juggler. The ribbon dancer. The chess players. The dude peeing on a lamp post. And many more whimsical, larger-than-life statues by Colombian artist Edgardo Carmona.
Now most of those 23 statues are leaving the River District for new homes elsewhere in the city. Nine have already departed, and more will follow in the coming months.
It’s all part of a plan to create city “art hubs” that revolve around the artfully rusted metal statues.
“When it gets done, it’s really going to be exciting,” says Carolyn Gora, chairperson for the city’s public art committee. “And just getting those nine moved was exciting.”
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The iron statues — each weighing 200-1,000 pounds and standing 7-10 feet tall — arrived in 2016 as part of a publicity campaign for the now-abandoned condominium project Allure. They were supposed to stay in downtown for three months. But then the exhibit got extended. And then it got extended again.
Finally, the Fort Myers City Council voted in 2018 to buy the statues and make them permanent residents.
It made sense, says Tom Hall, the city’s public art consultant. The statues had become a popular attraction, and people often shot photos of them or posed for selfies.
“A lot of the population had adopted them,” Hall says. “They had fallen in love with them. And to be honest, we got an incredible deal.
“That collection probably should have sold for a quarter of a million dollars. We negotiated a $55,000 purchase price. So the price was certainly right.”
Carmona visited the city in January 2016 for the unveiling of the statues. Through an interpreter, the Spanish-speaking artist said he built the statues using hydraulic machines, sandblasting and a special method to remove the calamine from the rust and stop the oxidation process.
The rust, he said, gives each piece a pleasing, colorful patina. “It’s intentional.”
Eight of the statues will stay in downtown Fort Myers
Eight of the statues will stay in downtown Fort Myers, including “Don Quixote” at the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce and the ever-popular “Man and Dog Marking Their Territory” (“Territorios”) at the corner of Hendry and Main streets.
When that last statue debuted in 2016, some people didn’t like the humorous subject matter — a man urinating on a lamp post — and considered the man’s exposed metal penis to be obscene. But city leaders and the public art committee discussed the statue and decided to keep it.
“Art is art,” said Donna Lovejoy, the city’s public art liaison, in 2019. “And it shouldn’t be censored.”
Besides, she pointed out, that statue is one of the most popular ones in downtown. “That’s always been a huge conversation piece — good, bad or indifferent.”
The rest of the statues will move elsewhere in the city’s six wards
The rest of the statues will move elsewhere in the city’s six wards. City council members and various businesses and organizations put in requests for which of the statues they wanted.
Nine of the statues were moved in November, including “The Horse” (known as “Al Galope” in its original Spanish title) to Billy Bowlegs Park, “Cyclist and Dog” (“Trialogo”) to the S.T.A.R.S. Complex and “Man Playing Flute” (“Duo Sinfonico”) and “Boy Fishing from Bucket” (“Utopia”) to The IMAG History & Science Center.
The remaining statues will likely move during the next several months, Hall says.
Greg Longenhagen, artistic director for Florida Repertory Theatre in downtown, says he looks forward to the theater’s new permanent neighbor, “The Unicycle Juggler” (aka “Faena En La Plaza”). The unicyclist statue goes well with the performing arts happening inside the theater, he says.
Longenhagen says he’s loved Carmona’s statues in downtown Fort Myers for years now.
“I think it’s cool art,” he says. “I love watching people in downtown interact with it. I see families, for instance, sit down at the chess playing table that’s right outside my offices.
“Anything that puts a smile on someone’s face is good.”
Those smiles, organizers hope, will start happening outside of downtown Fort Myers, too. The transported statues will serve as the core for miniature “art hubs” throughout the city — either joining existing arts and cultural attractions or serving as the core for more art to be installed around them.
The hubs will feature signs and also details about connecting to Otocast, a mobile app offering more information about the various pieces in the city’s public art collection. Information on the nine moved statues is expected to appear on the app as soon as January, Hall says.
The idea is to bring art and culture out of the galleries and museums and into a public forum, where everyone can appreciate and interact with them.
The sculptures come from Colombia and Colombian artist Carmona, and they’re based on people and places in the city of Cartagena, Hall says. But they don’t need to be specifically about Fort Myers to say something about the city and the people who live here.
“Normally, you would like the sculptures to have more of a relationship to our present or past,” Hall says. “These don’t particularly do that, because they represent likable figures from Cartagena.”
“But what it does say is that Fort Myers is a place where the arts flourish. It is a place where you can find culture. And what we’re hoping to do is to spur more creativity by having art more prevalent throughout the entire city.”
Here are the nine statues that have already moved and their new locations:
- “The Horse” (“Al Galope”), Billy Bowlegs Park
- “Mambeo” and “Bongo Drummer” (“Cadencia”), Roberto Clemente Park
- “Knife Sharpener” (“Al Filo”) and “Female Fruit Vendor” (“Vendedora De Frutas”), Urban Community Farm
- “Cyclist and Dog” (“Trialogo”), S.T.A.R.S. Complex
- “Man Playing Flute” (“Duo Sinfonico”) and “Boy Fishing from Bucket” (“Utopia”), The IMAG History & Science Center
- “Ribbon Routine” (“Ena En La Plaza”), Collaboratory
And here are the other statues scheduled to be moved and their planned destinations (pending the signing of public-art loan agreements by the recipients and/or other factors):
- “Nostalgic Tune on the Radio,” McCollum Hall (once renovations are completed to the property)
- “Fertilization” (“Deshove”), The Laboratory Theater of Florida
- “Unicycle Juggler” (“Faena En La Plaza”), Florida Repertory Theatre
- “Music Lover” (“Melomano”), The Edison & Ford Winter Estates
- “Eel (“Anquila”), “Symphony” (“Apareo”) and “Snail’s Shell” (“Caracol”), Alliance for the Arts
- “Chess Players” (“Juego De Ajedrez”), “Domino Players” (“Juego De Domino”) and “Nostalgia De Cuerdas,” the new park at The Forum shopping center (set to be completed this summer)
- “Two Drunks on a Park Bench” (“Negacion A Baco”) and “Snow Cone Vendor” (“Vendedor De Raspaos”), location to be determined.
To learn more about the statues, visit cityftmyers.com/1580/Allure-Your-Senses.
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at [email protected] or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).