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Sarasota Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018 2 years ago

Rosemary District comes together for public art

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The neighborhood is a leading example of the city's ongoing efforts to use artwork to create a sense of community.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

As the Rosemary District has sought to establish a sense of neighborhood identity amid an ongoing building boom and influx of new residents, members of the community have been quick to turn to art.

That’s why, on Saturday, dozens of people found themselves painting a colorful mural on the side of a building at the corner of Fifth Street and Central Avenue.

Starting at 10 a.m., a crowd gathered outside Uptown Eatery to begin filling in the painting artist Grace Howl had outlined the day before. Brushes and a variety of paint containers sat on tables. Uptown Eatery owner Gene Still provided food and refreshments, while representatives for the Rosemary District Association offered participants information on the neighborhood group.

The concept for this artwork came about more than a year ago, an idea that can be traced to multiple individuals. It finally became a reality with the help of the Rosemary District Association, which has identified public art as a foundation for what its members see as an increasingly vibrant neighborhood.

The Rosemary District has been going through a transformation since 2014, when the city approved new regulations that allowed for higher density in the neighborhood. In the past four years, more than 1,500 residential units have been approved for the area. District stakeholders feared those changes could erode any sense of community, so they’re actively working to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Rosemary District mural
A day-long event drew in volunteers to help paint in a mural on the side of a Rosemary District building Saturday.

The Rosemary District Association quickly identified art as one opportunity to help give the neighborhood distinct character. Allison Ficken, chairwoman of the association’s Public Art Committee, started a new initiative called ART UP to help foster the creation of new artwork in the area such as the Fifth Street mural.

But the idea to emphasize artwork came from the community’s established history, including the presence of artists and design professionals before the new residences got built.

“It’s here already,” Ficken said. “There are wonderful murals here already.”

Howl, who lives and has a gallery in the Rosemary District, drew inspiration from a project she did at The Ringling, where she used strangers to help her paint a mural in the facilities department. She enjoyed that for two reasons: It got people involved in the process of creating art, and it added artwork to a place people wouldn’t expect it.

Sarasota mural
Artist Jeff Hostetler fills in a portion of a new Rosemary District mural.

She thought the same thing could be accomplished with a large public mural in the Rosemary District. She feels a strong sense of fondness for the neighborhood, and when considering an appropriate project for the area, she was intent on getting others involved.

“I really wanted everybody to participate,” Howl said. “I wanted to take pride in the community.”

Still, who offered up a canvas for the project, admits his initial aspirations were a little more self-motivated. He noticed the wall on the side of his building was one of the few large blank spaces left in the neighborhood. He imagined artwork on the side of the building that prominently featured bacon and eggs — the sort of breakfast food he serves in his restaurant.

He eventually learned the city had regulations regarding advertisements on buildings, but the idea of a mural remained appealing. His business relies on neighborhood customers, and he, too, saw art as an opportunity to help forge a sense of community in the Rosemary District.

“It’s a focal point,” Still said. “It brings the neighborhood together.”

Howard Davis, president of the Rosemary District Association, said the neighborhood group would likely pursue similar projects to Saturday’s mural painting if things went well. Ficken said the turnout for Saturday’s event was better than expected.

Davis said the neighborhood association is also undertaking a longer-term effort to add world-class pieces of public art to the neighborhood.

Those who helped paint the mural saw the event as a perfect example of the benefits that public art can bring to a community.

“We can’t get enough arts in the Rosemary District,” Howl said.

Roundabout sculptures roll on

The city remains committed to one of its highest-profile public art projects of the decade, dedicating $400,000 toward sculptures for the center of two U.S. 41 roundabouts.

The City Commission approved the proposed budget at its Oct. 15 meeting. The city is putting out a call to artists to design and construct two large-scale sculptures in roundabouts at 10th and 14th streets. Each sculpture comes with a $150,000 budget for the artist and a $50,000 budget for administrative and logistical costs.

BRAVO! Sarasota
David Smith, the city's manager of long range planning, and artist Jorge Blanco pose at the ribbon cutting for the BRAVO! roundabout sculpture.

The city began the process of placing artwork in roundabouts in October 2015, when the commission approved the Embracing Our Differences sculpture for the intersection of Main Street and Orange Avenue.

Since then, the city has approved two more sculptures: BRAVO!, which sits in the Ringling Boulevard-Orange Avenue roundabout, and Jumping Fish, set to be installed at Palm Avenue and Cocoanut Avenue in December or January.

Planning Director Steve Cover said the city sees the roundabout sculpture series as a success, creating a sense of place and identity.

“It’s a way of promoting Sarasota as a city that loves the arts, and I think people really enjoy it,” Cover said.

The deadline for submitting proposals for the 10th and 14th street roundabouts is Jan. 15.

Crosswalk canvases

The city sees painting crosswalks as an inexpensive and easy opportunity to add public art, but a pilot project generated some criticism.

At a Nov. 6 Downtown Improvement District meeting, board member Mark Kauffman questioned whether the painted crosswalk was appropriate for the city’s downtown core. In October, the city hired artist Careth Christine Arnold to paint a crosswalk in the 1500 block of Main Street.

Kauffman said he was a proponent for the arts, but he didn’t think the painting fit with the ambiance of Main Street. He said he would prefer to see bricked crosswalks downtown. He also expressed concerns about drivers’ ability to identify the painted crosswalk.

“I think this is going to be dangerous,” Kauffman said.

Sarasota crosswalk painting
Beginning next year, the city could commission more crosswalk paintings, staff said.

City Planning Director Steve Cover said the feedback the city has received about the project has been largely positive, and that there have been no safety issues since the artwork was added. In fact, Cover said, the presence of distinct artwork generally gets drivers to slow down.

Cover said the city is still evaluating the crosswalk artwork, but by early 2019, staff will decide whether it wants to pursue similar projects in other locations.

“If we do, I think you’ll be seeing a lot more like that,” Cover said.

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