City of Valdosta promotes unity with Doors to Freedom monument unveiling

Sep. 22—VALDOSTA — Community members and City of Valdosta staff gathered Friday morning for the unveiling of the Doors to Freedom monument.

"This monument commemorates the bravery and resilience of those who fought tirelessly for their freedom. The Doors to Freedom symbolize the struggle for freedom and hallmarks our country's history. It serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by many and the price paid for the freedoms we enjoy today," Richard Hardy, Valdosta city manager, said as he welcomed the attendees.

The monument sits on the Valdosta City Hall's front lawn and its creation began about five years ago when a local group pitched an art project to Mayor Scott Matheson. The initial proposal was not a message that Matheson thought needed to be placed in the City of Valdosta and he proposed an alternative piece to the group. Now, the Doors to Freedom monument is the product of the five-year project.

Matheson said the Public Art Advisory Committee receives about $25,000 per year from the city's budget to purchase and explore works of public art and to promote the creation of works of art for the community.

"We trust the artists to come up with the right pieces and to modify them to be inspiring for our city because public art is meant to be placemaking, to inspire and to unite [the community]. Private art can be divisive and can push the limits but public art is to be inspiring," he said in an interview following the ceremony.

Inspiration and unity is the key message the Doors to Freedom monument artist Steven Walker wants viewers to take away from the art piece. Walker and his wife Evelyn Davis-Walker worked together to create the illustration of the piece. He is originally an oil painter based in Hahira.

"Inspired by those that bravely went in search of freedom and to those who opened their doors to welcome them," Steven and Evelyn Davis-Walker said on the program.

Walker said it was overwhelming to complete the project as it was his first attempt working in the sculpting medium, but it was very helpful to complete the project as a team with his wife and the City of Valdosta.

Local community members, stakeholders and even students will be able to view the monument while touring the city or walking in the downtown area for years to come. Valdosta State University Chief Legal Affairs Officer Justin M. Arrington said attending the unveiling and seeing the piece are a great way to show the connected fibers of the community.

"Especially now as politics has been so divisive, it's great to see moments like this in the community and to show how together we can be," Arrington said in an interview following the unveiling.

He said projects like the Doors to Freedom monument connect to the education that Valdosta State University is trying to give.

"It shows students how they can impact their community in real settings through art, politics and community organizations. All those things that we teach in the classes at VSU are so important and it's great to see that in real life," he said.

The ceremony concluded with remarks from Stormwater Manager Angela Bray and followed with the mayor, Walker, Valdosta City Council and city staff contributors cutting the ribbon in front of the monument.

Matheson explained that residents might see more additions to the monument such as a QR code placed on the railroad track plaque and a potential cobblestone foundation finishing.