Painting awareness

Striking mural is being created as part of the “Hope for the Ocklawaha Art and Photography Exhibit” project.

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Posted October 23, 2022 | By Susan Smiley-Height
Photos by Bruce Ackerman

Anyone passing by Fort King Presbyterian Church will no doubt notice the colorful mural being painted on a city wall at the front of the campus.

The “Hope for the Ocklawaha Art and Photography Exhibit” includes the display of images along with a series of talks and artist Drake Arnold live painting an Ocklawaha River-themed mural.

The project is hosted by the Free the Ocklawaha River Coalition to build public awareness about the largest tributary to the St. Johns River and one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers. The coalition collaborated with the church and the city of Ocala and once the mural, called “The Water and Wildlife of the Ocklawaha,” is finished, which is slated for late November, it will become part of the city’s public art collection.

“This masterful wildlife mural, a gift from Drake Arnold, reflects Marion County’s location at the heart of The Florida Wildlife Corridor and water bodies of statewide importance – Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha and St. Johns rivers,” said Margaret Spontak, chair of the coalition.

“It will serve as a gateway to our beloved Silver Springs and historic Ocklawaha River and a reminder of how important water and wildlife is to the health and economy of our community.”

Arnold, who was born and raised in Ocala, works in traditional and digital media and uses acrylic and aerosol when painting on canvas or a mural wall. He studied music composition at the College of Central Florida and later earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in digital art from the University of Tampa. Upon graduation, he worked as a motion graphics designer and glass blower and traveled the country to “live paint” at music festivals and events. He returned to Ocala in 2018.

“Now that I am a professional muralist, I want to use my skills as an artist to give back to the local community through raising awareness for nonprofits and other causes that are championed by charitable organizations. My mom always supported the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and other environmental organizations, so I suppose you could say I was just raised with those kinds of values,” he shared.

“Everyone loves animals and wildlife, as their story and plight are easily relatable. Framing the mural story through their context makes it easy to demonstrate the benefits of this project, which preserves the water, wildlife and biodiversity of our region for future generations,” Arnold said.

The Hope for the Ocklawaha Photography Exhibit may be seen 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 24; 10 to 4 p.m. Oct. 21 and 28; and noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 23 and 30. The featured artists include Arnold, Karen Chadwick, Will Dickey, Mark Emery, Anne MacKay, John Moran, Reinier Munguia, Margaret Tolbert and Alan Youngblood.

On Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. Chadwick will give a talk about “Bringing Ocklawaha’s Wildlife to Life.” Chadwick, who is a boat captain and graduate of the Ringling School of Art, will showcase her soapstone sculptures of wildlife found along the Ocklawaha River and other works. She has designed exhibits for environmental and education centers and museums across the state, and her life-like exhibit fabrications may be seen at the Silver River Museum in Ocala.

Arnold was the guest speaker on Monday, Oct. 17.

“Drake Arnold captivated the audience with his wit, self-deprecating humor and authentic message about his love of Marion County, creation of public art and efforts to use his talents to highlight important community causes,” Spontak said.

Fort King Presbyterian Church donated the mural supplies and funds for long-term maintenance of Arnold’s mural through donations to the Community Foundation for Ocala/Marion County’s Ocklawaha Restoration Fund, which can be found at  ocalafoundation.org/community-foundation-funds/ocklawaha-river-restoration-fund

Hope House at Fort King Presbyterian Church is located at 13 NE 36th Ave. Ocala.

Special small group or class visits for the “Hope for the Ocklawaha Art and Photography Exhibit” may be made by emailing Spontak at mhspontak@gmail.com.