Dr. Rich Swier sees the bayfront sculpture of a kissing sailor and nurse as timeless.
“It reaches across every generation,” said Swier, president of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission.
“Each day, people from across America and tourists from around the world gather at the base of ‘Unconditional Surrender’ to take a picture.”
On July 6, Swier urged the City Commission to accept an offer from an anonymous donor who wants to buy the sculpture for $500,000 and give the sculpture to the city. The donor’s only condition is that it stays on the bayfront.
The donor is an 88-year-old World War II veteran who said the image of the Navy sailor and nurse in Times Square represents the happiest day of his life. He’s a widower with no family to which to leave his money.
Brenda Terris, executive director of Sarasota Season of Sculpture, joined Swier in asking commissioners for their support. She said that a week before the donor came forward, she had received approval from the Sarasota Public Art Committee to move the sculpture to Ken Thompson Park because the bayfront lease was expiring.
“I presented other options, including Ken Thompson Park, but he was adamantly opposed,” Terris told commissioners. “He had worked for the U.S. Park Service and witnessed beautiful artwork that was not well placed.”
Terris said it is the most popular piece of art Season of Sculpture has ever brought to Sarasota.
“Tens of thousands of people have enjoyed ‘Unconditional Surrender,’” she said. “It’s a draw for tourists and residents, and there has been a groundswell of support in e-mails and letters, as many as 10 to one in favor of keeping it (on the bayfront).”
Before the City Commission makes its decision on the sculpture, the Public Art Committee will make a recommendation at its Aug. 12 meeting.
Committee Chairwoman Virginia Hoffman has been critical of “Unconditional Surrender” and said because of her position she has been called unpatriotic and anti-American.
“Public art should not be made political,” Hoffman said. “It’s OK to debate, but not in the form of a personal attack.”
Hoffman said her father was a World War II sailor who was wounded in the Philippines.
“I understand the meaning of this,” she said. “But I’m unhappy about the divisiveness of this.”
The city has a monetary incentive to keep the sculpture on the bayfront — it will receive $29,000 in commission if the $500,000 sale goes through.