New 424-Foot Wide Woven Sculpture in Florida Honors the Civil Rights Movement

Amy Martz/Courtesy Janet Echelman

The permanent work was hung above a park in St. Petersburg.

As Confederate Civil War monuments across the United States are being taken down, one American artist wanted to honor the Civil Rights Movement's modern history uniquely. Instead of traditional sculpture, Janet Echelman opted to create a massive piece of woven art that would hang above a public park in Florida

Andrew Sachs/Courtesy Janet Echelman

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Called Bending Arc, the work is composed of blue fibers and spans 424 feet wide and is 72 feet tall. The colors were inspired by beach umbrella patterns on old postcards and underwater pier barnacles. And given its malleable composition, the piece is always changing with movements from the wind. As far as the name goes, it comes from a quote by Martin Luther King: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Brian Adams/Courtesy Janet Echelman

The site was chosen due to its historical significance during the Civil Rights Movement. It was where local residents protested segregation in the 1950s, ultimately leading to the 1957 US Supreme Court ruling allowing all races to use the municipal pool and beach. 

Joe Sale/Courtesy Janet Echelman

"I wanted to celebrate the courage of the people whose work led to the freedom and inclusion we can all experience today at the new pier," Echelman told Dezeen. "The title Bending Arc is important to me, and it embraces the goal of the new pier to welcome everyon–all ages, all backgrounds. The colors of my sculpture reflect this–hues of blue like the sky in a full gradient from white to black."

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The sturdy piece is made from a combination of fibers, one of which is 15 times stronger than steel and can withstand 150-miles-per-hour winds. Cranes were used to install the giant artwork and LED lights to illuminate it with pink and purple hues at night, creating a sensory experience for visitors day and night. This is Echleman's latest woven sculpture. She hung a pink and red piece over Plaza Mayor in Madrid in 2018 and another in London's Oxford Circus in 2016.