Downtown's Eclectic Public Art Scene

Posted: Sep 19, 2018 03:41 pm Updated: Oct 17, 2023 10:20 am

Downtown Pensacola has become a beacon for local artists looking to make a visual and cultural impact in their community. The historic buildings and picturesque landscapes allow our cultural hub to celebrate artwork in many different forms. Discover the galleries, murals, and public art projects that provide a modern twist to “Florida’s Greatest Place.”

Take a walk along Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza and you’ll come across the 9/11 Homage to America, a sculpture designed by Peter King and Xinia Marin—a beautiful and touching memorial to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in NYC. Further south in the historic district are a set of murals depicting antique ships docked in Pensacola painted on the walls of the Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center and a painting of a horse-drawn steam-pumping engine with firefighters painted on the side of the Quayside Gallery. The engine is similar to the one housed by the building in the late 1800s when it was used as the headquarters for the Germania Steam Fire Engine and Hose Company. 

A bit north of Cervantes, you can enjoy the bright, whimsical street art lining the walls of the First City Art Center, painted as part of the annual Foo Foo Festival, which celebrates local art, music and culture.

Spread throughout downtown Pensacola you'll find colorful, hand-painted painted parking meters. The re-purposed meters comprise the Better Way to Give project created by the Greater Pensacola Chamber Foundation’s Leadership Pensacola (LeaP) Class of 2016, installing re-purposed obsolete parking meters — painted by local artists and local businesses — in downtown parks to accept coins that are donated to a local homeless charity, providing an alternative to giving money directly to panhandlers. 

Throughout the downtown area you’ll also find a pod of colorful five-foot tall pelicans. The Pelicans in Paradise project was created by the Pensacola News Journal as a way to celebrate local art and culture in a fun, fresh way. See how many you can spot on your next downtown visit.

As you head further west, you can enjoy the ever-changing Graffiti Bridge located on N. 17th Avenue. The old railroad overpass is constantly transformed by locals and visitors—a living canvas to express inspiration and creativity. 

In the historic Belmont-Devilliers district,  you’ll find various works from local artist Carter J. Gaston, whose brightly painted murals depict many of the area’s well-known residents and landmarks. The self-proclaimed “world’s best live portrait artist” once spent a week painting local African-American leaders including Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., the nation’s first black four-star general; Dr. John Sunday, a trail-blazing legislator and James Polkinghorne, Jr., among many other important historic and cultural figures.

“It’s great to see public art inspiring more artistic projects that reflect the city’s future while showcasing our rich history,” said local artist Evan Levin. In 2016, Levin partnered with artist Ashton Howard to design and then paint the colorful 3,000 sq. ft. Jefferson Street Mural that illustrates Pensacola’s iconic history on the side of the Jefferson St. parking garage. One year later, the duo returned with CUBED, a 12-day mural installation and live public art performance, featuring 16 local artists who painted their original designs onto four giant cubes. These colorful works of art are now on display at the UWF Historic Trust Museum Plaza located behind the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum.

Head south and see all of the public art dotting our historic district, and for a regular dose of art head downtown every month for Gallery Night, when downtown galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and bars open their doors to the night air and visitors and locals flood the streets to enjoy music, art and cuisine.