Tampa has a mix of outside art for everyone, rich, poor and otherwise. There’s the well-known massive metal sculpture snarkily nicknamed The Exploding Chicken near the Florida Aquarium, the downtown bridges that light up softly in multiple colors, and the bright fiberglass fish that hang along Bayshore Boulevard.
But one of the most provocative and arresting pieces of outside art sits in front of a coffee shop and community space called Portico, the downtown Tampa campus of Hyde Park United Methodist Church. Homeless Jesus, it’s called — a full-size sculpture of a man lying on a bench huddled beneath a blanket. Only his bare feet are exposed. On them you can see wounds left by nails.
Created by artist Timothy Schmalz and replicated as far away as Australia, a Homeless Jesus statue was once blessed by Pope Francis. It’s art that’s both Biblical and as thoroughly modern as the dilemma cities struggle with around the world.
The statue was unveiled in Tampa last year and sits where streetworn people lugging backpacks pass by with regularity, part of Hillsborough County’s current population of at least 1,550 homeless. Sometimes, folded up notes and flowers are left there, so people will remember.
"I think it’s an impactful piece," says Rev. Justin LaRosa, minister at the Portico campus. "People are struck by it."
On Thursday, Dec. 14 at 6 p.m., the Homeless Jesus statue outside 1001 N Florida Ave. will serve as a somber gathering place to honor at least 20 homeless people who died this year in Hillsborough County with nowhere else to go. For some, it may be the only commemoration.
In the spirit of the statue, everyone is welcome.
--Sue Carlton, Times staff