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Public Art in West Palm Beach Highlights Immigration, Social Justice Issues

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Related Companies
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Left to Right: Gopal Rajegowda, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Renzo Ortega, and Sarah Gavlak

Don’t just stroll through. The art is speaking to you. The inaugural artist-in-residence program in West Palm Beach is a series sparking public discourse surrounding issues of the day.

New Wave Art Weekend, founded by Sarah Gavlak, features talent from marginalized communities. To bring their recent work to life, they’ve partnered with Related Companies, the developers behind Rosemary Square in Downtown West Palm Beach.

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Renzo Ortega, a Peurivan immigrant who tackles themes about immigration, has been livestreaming his creative process via Rosemary’s Instagram page. During an Instagram Live interview with Gopal Rajegowda, the senior vice president of Related Companies, Ortega talked about the intrinsic power of public art — the subtle things that occur when people are observing a piece of work.

Ortega said he witnessed a father taking a picture of his child enjoying the art and to Ortega, that small act by the father signifies the interconnectedness of public art. He believes that art challenges the inner-workings of everyday life, and says capturing memories is every bit as important as the artist and the work. 

“In the current situation, artists are getting more introspective with their work and are becoming increasingly important as we are part of the community’s voice,” Ortega told WLRN.

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Credit Renzo Ortega
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Abundance by Renzo Ortega

“Public art brings community engagement and interaction that makes the context of the artwork successful. For me, the interaction of people with my art, like I have seen at Rosemary Square, has incredible value.”

The studio storefront gallery space is located near the historic Himmel Theater. Ortega, whose work is a mix of “classical, conceptual and modernist painting styles,” says he’s “influenced by different parts of art history, architecture and culture.”

And Ortega describes his signature mural as a metaphorical celebration of unity within immigrant families.

“My signature mural at Rosemary Square is called United Migrant Familia of America. It is a painting of a migrant family that is in the ocean with inclusions of migratory birds and fish, as well as a house,” Ortega said.

“This mural celebrates united families and is in response to the families that have been separated at the border. Our communities are our family and with this painting I want to show that families are united within our community.”

Gopal Rajegowda has been with Related Companies for more than 15 years. He says inclusive public art may have transformative power.

“This artist-in-residency program is even more special because I think in this day and age, we have so many important topics that we need to have a dialog around,” Rajegowda told WLRN. "And artists are really sculpting and creating dialog around these issues.”

Rajegowda is interested in curating an immersive neighborhood for diverse audiences. And he says large scale public art in mixed-use environments, “impact the way we live, work and play.”

He says artists from various backgrounds encourage communities to reimagine their cities. The next theme will cover social justice — a relevant topic surrounding some of the recent protests against systemic racism that have occurred in recent months. “I think it's a very relevant topic around what's happening around the country,” Rajegowda said.

Rajegowda says open studio visits are taking place from now through July 31 and masks are required for all visitors.