Let's thank the mosquitoes. With a 19th-century notion that the insects can travel only 60 feet before tiring and crashing to the ground, Columbia city planners decided the best way to hinder the spread of malaria was to construct streets more than three times that wide.
Bad news for mosquitoes, good news for art lovers: Today, those boulevards are lined with dozens of sculptures, murals, mosaics, and fountains.
We've narrowed the 100 or so works down to a few favorites; a full map is available at smartarts.info.
Taylor Street, between Marion and Bull Streets
Save artist Blue Sky's brawny depiction of a highway cutting through rock for late in the day, when the mural's subdued sun catches the rays of the sunset and takes on a remarkably fiery glow. It took four tries for Blue Sky to convince management at the Federal Land Bank to allow him to transform the building's west-facing wall into a massive mural, but in 1975 he finally did, with the stipulation that he would remove it in a year if they didn't like it. Thirty-five years later, it's been repainted five times.
Upright Motive #8
Boyd Plaza, Columbia Museum of Art, Main Street at Hampton
Fronting the Columbia Museum of Art, the plaza is especially popular on sunny afternoons, when its benches fill with office workers enjoying lunch among artwork such as the shimmering Keenan Fountain. They also see, across the street, NEVERBUST, Blue Sky's oversize length of chain connecting two buildings. Because it's tucked into a protected recess, Henry Moore's primitive Upright Motive #8—the plaza's most important work—doesn't always draw the biggest crowds. The sculptor once said the totemic bronze piece was inspired by a Jamaican wood carving of a bird man.
Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivor's Garden
Positioned along a busy stretch between the University of South Carolina and the Five Points neighborhood, Maxcy Gregg Park's cancer survivor's garden offers hope and inspiration to anyone looking for a place of reflection and beauty. Hemmed by live oak trees and set with arbors, a labyrinth, and benches, the focal point of the park is a group of eight life-size bronze figures passing through a maze of doorways that compose Cancer... there's hope by sculptor Victor Salmones. The five figures heading toward the maze, which symbolizes cancer treatment, wear fearful yet optimistic expressions. The three who have passed through laugh with the joy of new life.
University of South Carolina, Wardlaw College, Sumter Street
Renowned sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband, industrialist Archer Huntington, opened their 9,000-acre winter estate near Myrtle Beach to the public as Brookgreen Garden in 1931, establishing the country's first outdoor sculpture garden. Three decades later, she donated The Torchbearer, an 18-foot-tall casting of a young rider atop a majestic horse, to the University of South Carolina. Though imposing, the work is accessible: Mrs. Huntington requested that the university mount it on a low base so that children could climb up and touch it—and they do.
Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center
1101 Lincoln Street
Not all of Columbia's public art sits outdoors. The sprawling, gallery-like space just inside the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, open at no charge, is filled with abstract landscapes, montages, glass sculptures, and paintings of local landmarks. The works represent the region's history, architecture, and natural resources. Each of the more than 40 pieces was created by local artists (like nationally prominent painter Jonathan Greene). Don't miss Thanks, Kelly, which pays homage to a traditional barber shop; the spot-on paintings of exotic animals from Riverbanks Zoo; and the lovely depictions of the city's three rivers. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.