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Climate change is impacting so much around us: heat, flooding, health, wildlife, housing, and more. WUSF, in collaboration with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, is bringing you stories on how climate change is affecting you.

Orlando’s Melting Statue Shines Light On Florida’s Rising Heat

Award-winning artist-inventor Bob Partington led the statue project with the 1stAveMachine production house in New York, where Orlando's statue of a girl and her grandfather was created.

How hot is it in Florida? It's actually melting art installations across the state.

Ever felt like you were melting in the Florida heat? That’s exactly what will happen to a new piece of art in downtown Orlando as it slowly degrades over a period of several days to reveal an eco-friendly message hidden in its interior.

Right in front of City Hall, a wax sculpture of a young girl and her grandfather will disintegrate under the unforgiving rays of Florida’s sun — symbolizing the effects of ever-warmer temperatures in the Sunshine State.

The sculpture, which will be unveiled Sept. 24, is one of three placed around the state by the CLEO Institute, a nonpartisan Florida-based nonprofit dedicated to climate education. In this case, the organization hopes to use art to open people’s eyes to the realities of science.

“Art has that great potential to connect to people in so many ways,” said Yoca Arditi-Rocha, executive director of the CLEO Institute. “Unfortunately, this issue has been politicized for too long.”

As politicians debate how or even whether to mitigate climate change, statistics show that average temperatures in Florida have climbed about 1 degree Fahrenheit since the early 1900s. Projections indicate that without mitigation efforts, they could exceed historical records by about 9 degrees by the end of the century.

The CLEO Institute unveiled this wax statue of a lifeguard's beach hut at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in downtown Miami on Sept. 9. The statue will melt as part of the institute's Florida Climate Crisis campaign.

Such a change would cause “substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades,” warned the government’s fourth National Climate Assessment, released in 2017.

It’s that damage that concerns the CLEO Institute.

“The more temperatures continue to rise, the lower quality of life we’re going to have,” said Arditi-Rocha.

The Orlando sculpture has twofold symbolism. It represents Central Florida’s family-friendly tourist attractions, which drive the local economy and could suffer if it becomes more uncomfortable to spend long, hotter days in theme parks. It also highlights the legacy one generation leaves another.

Together, the three wax sculptures reflect different aspects of Florida life. Tampa’s sculpture, featuring a panther and her cub, represents nature and wildlife. Miami’s, unveiled first on Sept. 9, depicts a lifeguard hut as seen on Florida’s beaches, which would be damaged by higher ocean levels caused by the warmer temperatures.

The Tampa Zoo at Lowry Park will host a sculpture of a Florida panther and her cub as part of the Florida Climate Crisis statue program.

“They really symbolize what all Floridians cherish,” Arditi-Rocha said. “Everyone wants to come vacation, restore and play in Florida.”

Creating the artwork took “tons” of research, said Bob Partington of 1stAveMachine, the New York production house that created the melting sculptures.

“There was a lot of chemistry going on there” to find the right wax that would melt — but not melt too fast, said Partington, an inventor known from The History Channel’s “ThingamaBob.”

One problem: How to apply color to the statues that would melt at the same rate as the wax? The answer turned out to be wax-based theatrical makeup, applied by an artist with her tools and brushes.

COVID-19 supply-chain hiccups also affected the statue development, with occasional delays in securing enough wax for the lifesize pieces.

“We tapped out our supplier,” Partington said.

As the Florida heat takes its toll, the lifeguard shack sculpture in Miami begins melting, as the roof and railing are the first to degrade.

The statues are part of a broader CLEO initiative, the Florida Climate Crisis campaign. It’s sponsored by the VoLo Foundation, a private, Orlando-based philanthropy led by Thaís López and David S. Vogel.

The idea for the statue program — which Arditi-Rocha calls “artivism” as it combines art and activism — came from Zubi, a Miami advertising agency. Supporters are urged to share photos with the statues on social media, using the hashtag #FlClimateCrisis. (Get more information at FLClimateCrisis.org.)

“We knew from the get-go we had to create something really different,” said Zubi creative director Iván Calle. “We wanted to make something that would really touch the hearts of Floridians.”

But along with the heart, the organizers hope the message of the statues reaches the mind.

“This campaign is bigger than the sculptures,” Calle said. “Ultimately it’s more heat, less USA. More heat, less planet.”

The Orlando unveiling will take place at 10 a.m. Sept. 24 at City Hall. Officials were supportive of the initiative because “the City of Orlando remains committed to advance bold climate action and sustainability,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email.

Partington said the imagery of melting — destroyed art mirroring the fear that quality of life will be destroyed — will create an emotional impact.

“It’s just an amazing sadness when these things degrade,” said Partington. “It’s not CGI; there’s an honesty and transparency that really strikes a chord with people.”

This story was produced in partnership with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a multi-newsroom initiative founded by the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel, WLRN Public Media and the Tampa Bay Times.

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