Tallahassee artist Cosby Hayes positions a lift in front of a large 96 foot x 25 foot mural he is painting on the west side of the E.D. Croskey Recreation Center on Northwest Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. The mural, when completed, will also wrap around on the south side of the building. According to a press release from the City of Ocala: The City of Ocala’s Cultural Arts and Sciences Division, along with Fine Arts for Ocala (FAFO), Racial Equity and Cultural Harmony (REACH), and the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Commission hosted community meetings to discuss the mural‚Äôs subject matter in September and October. Artist Cosby Hayes attended the meetings to collect the community input that developed into the mural concept. Journalist, Cynthia Graham, a collaborative artist on the project, also participated in the meetings and is documenting the entire process. The result will be an educational brochure that will meet Florida State teaching standards and be distributed to Marion County Public Schools, as a tool to further available curriculum, at the completion of the project. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
The center was built in 1951 and was called the War Memorial Auditorium/Recreation Center. In February 2000, it was renamed for Edward “E.D.” Croskey, who worked for the City of Ocala Recreation and Parks Department for 35 years and was known for his love of helping local youth.
“Most people look at it as a recreational facility, but it was much more,” said local author, photographer and educator Cynthia Wilson-Graham of the center’s early days. “There were plays there, debutante balls, big-name singers would come in from out of town. It opened in the early ‘50s for minorities.”
Wilson-Graham said mural artist Cosby Hayes was given access to a collection of historic center photographs amassed by former employee and artist Robert Williams. Some of those images will be woven into the overall theme of the artwork.
The City of Ocala’s Cultural Arts and Sciences Division, along with Fine Arts for Ocala (FAFO), the Racial Equity and Cultural Harmony (REACH) task force and the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Commission hosted community meetings in September and October to discuss the mural’s subject matter. Hayes attended the meetings to collect the community input that developed into the mural concept.
Wilson-Graham, a collaborative artist on the project, participated in the meetings and is documenting the entire process for use in an educational brochure that will meet Florida State teaching standards and later be distributed to Marion County Public Schools.
The mural being created by Hayes will span the west and south-facing walls of the center, located at 1510 NW Fourth St., within the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Complex. Hayes, of Tallahassee, has been commissioned by city governments, nonprofits and businesses. He works as a community organizer and activist and is constantly creating new works with his partner and collaborator, Sarah Painter.
Hayes said he submitted a proposal for the Ocala mural project back in 2019 or 2020. He said plans to be in town working on the mural until about Jan. 28.
“He has images provided to him from the Robert Williams collection of photographs but he also has an overarching picture that you see out there now, of the hands weaving fabric like bringing in the community all together,” noted Wilson-Graham of the stunning images created thus far. “So, the pictures he will weave into this big mural are images from those different segments of things that took place at the center.”
She said that some people have seen the bare exterior of the center as an eyesore and she is happy that “art is going to bring imagery to the west side of town, because if you notice there is really nothing in West Ocala other than the mural wall at the MLK complex but it is not easily seen unless you drive in off of the road. But this piece of art is right off of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. If people come to the center for any activity, they’ll see it and the public can see it as they are driving up and down the road. Members of a women’s exercise group from the Barbara Gaskin Washington Adult Activity Center came by one morning and said how much they liked it. And when people come to the complex on Monday after the annual MLK March, they can walk over and check it out.”
“Folks can always stop by and watch,” Hayes added.
To learn more, visit www.ocalafl.org/culturalarts.