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City refines public art search process

An increase in public works projects also has the city searching for sculptors and painters. How do officials find the creative minds behind civic artwork?

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  • | 6:00 a.m. June 2, 2016
In April, the city installed the first piece of roundabout artwork at the intersection of Main Street and Orange Avenue.
In April, the city installed the first piece of roundabout artwork at the intersection of Main Street and Orange Avenue.
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The State Street garage first opened to the public last July, and the city held a formal ribbon cutting ceremony for the parking structure in February.

Still, the garage isn’t entirely complete. On May 11, Parking Manager Mark Lyons appeared before the city’s Public Art Committee and spoke about the next phase of work on the facility: the addition of public artwork.

Together, the group is searching for artists interested in undertaking the effort of adorning the lobby, stairwells and other concrete surfaces in the building. The project, which comes with a budget up to $100,000 split among as many as five artists, is intended to provide a practical benefit in addition to enhanced aesthetics.

“The idea is that the thematic process would provide a wayfinding concept,” Lyons said.

The Public Art Committee agendas have begun to grow in the past two years. An increase in development has led to an increase in public art projects. Builders of projects exceeding $250,000 in value are required to contribute to the city’s public art fund or provide their own artwork for the public realm.

“I do believe with all the building that’s going on in the community and in Florida, obviously, there will be more and more opportunities for art,” said Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. “One of our goals is, we really want to be sure that not only are we building buildings, but that we’re using the arts to beautify the community.”

At the same time, the city is taking on many of its own projects that will eventually double as an exhibition for public artwork. Most notably, the city is embarking on a series of roundabouts, and the Public Art Committee is working to place sculptures in the center of the traffic features.

In April, the city installed the first piece of art in that series at Main Street and Orange Avenue. The 20-foot sculpture was designed by an artist from Tuscon, Ariz. — which inspired criticism from some residents who believe the city should have selected a local artist.

Already, a second national call for artists has gone out for a roundabout at Orange and Ringling Boulevard. At its May meeting, members of the Public Art Committee discussed whether future invitations for proposals should be limited to a narrower, local field of artists.

Chairman Jeffrey Weisman suggested the board might be interested in targeting local artists, and the national invitation has been partially attributable to legal uncertainty. City staff indicated there is no legal issue with seeking public artwork from a narrowly defined geographic area.

David Smith, the city’s integration general manager, explained the process behind the search for artists. In addition to announcing the project on email lists and social media, the city uses the website to solicit proposals from artists across the country.

Smith and other city officials have stood behind the national call for artists. He believes that, even with competition from across the country, the selection process still gives Sarasota artists an edge.

“I think the local artists really have an advantage in that they know the community, and they’re known in the community,” Smith said. “They can go to the site, look around and generate ideas.”

Virginia Hoffman, a local artist who formerly served on the Public Art Committee, said the city’s public art search process could benefit from some changes, such as more lead time for artists to submit proposals.

Artists had a little more than a month to submit proposals for the Orange and Ringling roundabout.

Already, the committee has moved to strike a provision from the roundabout call for artists seeking people with experience designing public art. The board suggested it is flexible to other changes as new ideas surface.

The committee also agreed to search from a  smaller geographic area for the State Street garage artwork, scheduled for installation in late 2017. Hoffman said a narrower focus would lead to a more meaningful product.

“There are artists out there nationwide that have all their little precanned ideas,” Hoffman said. “You don’t want things that come out of somebody’s closet — you want something that is designed specifically for you.”


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