A vibrant and creative downtown
Murals and sculptures make the Eau Gallie Arts District an outdoor museum
BY KERRY FIRTH
Main Street America programs throughout the country have painted their blighted downtown districts with murals, but few have elevated their artwork to the degree of the Eau Gallie Arts District. The provocative murals and sculptures have created a genuine outdoor art museum. More than 30 thought-provoking murals grace the sides of historic buildings housing eclectic shops, art galleries and restaurants. The revitalized arts district, quaintly nestled within the live oak-lined streets, has breathed new life into the authentic original neighborhood of Eau Gallie established in 1860.
Eau Gallie, a section of the city of Melbourne located on the city’s northern side, was developed as a small coastal town along the Indian River Lagoon in Brevard County. It includes the Eau Gallie Civic Center, public library and pier. Residents and visitors can also enjoy Pineapple Park, Foosaner Art Museum and Renee Foosaner Education Center. The name Eau Gallie, roughly translated, means ‘rocky water,’ inspired by the colorful coquina rocks found in the shallow water. The historic area is home to numerous museums and homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2010 the Eau Gallie Arts District, or EGAD, was formed under Florida Main Street guidelines within the same boundaries of the original plat. With grants from the City of Melbourne, the State of Florida, local and private foundations and memberships from the community, the transformation of the historical community began. The first mural was painted on the band shell in 2011, depicting the marine life in the Indian River Lagoon. More followed with varying subject matter, ranging from hummingbirds to abstract to hands texturized by thumbprints.
People started coming out to see the massive works of art and stayed to shop and dine.
Additional murals were added in 2015, and 21 were added in 2017 during the huge mass mural Anti-Gravity Project. The project garnered national attention when eight internationally acclaimed street artists joined local artists for a 10-day event. Meet-and-greet the artist receptions and art demonstrations were held along with a festive block party celebrating the transformation of the community.
“The excitement generated by the Anti-Gravity Project elevated us above other downtown initiatives,” says Lisa Packard, executive director of the Eau Gallie Arts District. “The event established us as the epicenter of innovation on the Space Coast. People from all over Florida came to watch the artists paint and ended up staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants and shopping in our stores. Each international artist has his own following and their fans come to see them. They post their work on their social media pages and we gain instant recognition. That project really put us on the map.”
Packard adds, “Our murals are not your run-of-the-mill tourism murals that you’d expect. Ours are edgy and sometimes controversial. We want each work of art to be thought provoking and challenging. Our vision has actually landed us in hot water from time to time, like the exploding cartoon parody of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ by Matthew Gondek. Some members of the community thought it was inappropriate for the public, while others said to remove the mural would be censorship. In the end, the City of Melbourne’s Historical and Architectural Review Board voted to keep the mural and it is one of the most photographed murals in the district.”
EGAD also hosts many events throughout the year. People can bring their pets in costume to the ever-popular Pets on Parade party each Halloween. Prizes will be given for the smallest, largest, most talented and best costumed dog.
Kids and families can enjoy a visit with Santa and the holiday music during the Holiday Tree Lighting Festival on Dec. 6. The streets will be covered in twinkling lights while area merchants will be serving up special food and drinks.
Other events include the Whiskey in the District Festival on Feb. 8, 2020. The district will be lined with food trucks and street vendors. VIP passes give access to the whiskey tent where 10 to 14 whiskey brand ambassadors will be serving shots of whiskey along with food and entertainment.
There are ongoing concerts in the park, walking tours and bus trips to visit Art Basel, an art fair in Miami Beach as well as the Miami cultural attractions such as museums and art galleries. “We try to have something going on monthly in the district,” says Packard. “We’ve got a lot of fun events in the works and another major mural project on the horizon. We continue to be innovative and creative in our redevelopment planning, and that carries through to our community events.”
You can go at your own pace by utilizing the mural walking tour map available online at www.egadlife.com/map or take one of the informative guided tours offered this fall. A stroll through the district also involves information on the historical significance of the buildings. Visit www.egadlife.com for the latest happenings and events calendar.