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Roundabout art projects delayed as state agreement remains unfinished

Ready to send three artist finalists to the Sarasota City Commission for a sculpture at the Gulfstream Avenue roundabout, the Public Art Committee hits another roadblock.

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For months, Sarasota’s Public Art Committee has been circling a selection of preferred artists to create a sculpture for the center of the roundabout at U.S. 41 and Fruitville Road.

Poised to choose three recommended artists at its early August meeting for consideration by the City Commission, the committee hit a roadblock. That’s when Mary Davis Wallace, the senior city planner and public art lead, told the committee that negotiations with the Florida Department of Transportation are ongoing, and until an agreement with the state is reached to place public art in the state’s right of way, moving forward was premature.

In May, the committee recommended the City Commission approve Dwell, a multicolored sculpture of coral, in a departure from prior protocol of providing commissioners three selections from which to choose. Commissioners not only rejected Dwell but also passed on the other two finalists chosen and sent the project back to the committee.

In May, city commissioners rejected Dwell, a sculpture of coral, for the roundabout Fruitville Road and U.S. 41. (Courtesy)
In May, city commissioners rejected Dwell, a sculpture of coral, for the roundabout Fruitville Road and U.S. 41. (Courtesy)

As they revisited favored submissions and reconsidered others in the months since, discussions between the city and FDOT for a Community Aesthetics Features agreement to allow artwork in roundabouts on state-owned and maintained roads lagged. Wallace said just when an agreement will be reached is impossible to predict.

“We have received some information that, to be honest, has caused us to reconsider whether or not the timing of today's vote is appropriate,” Wallace told the committee. “We are still in deliberations and discussions with FDOT, so in my professional opinion, … I would just rather not have to go down this road involving three more finalists and potentially a finalist in November per our timeline, to then not know really how we're going to proceed.”

Specific sticking points have not been disclosed, but PAC member Jeff Davidson asked Wallace if public art on a state-owned right of way is a novel concept in Florida and if the development of this first agreement is the reason for the delay.

“We are blazing the trail. There are a lot of roundabouts in our state and across the country, but many of them are on private roads that are maintained by a municipality,” Wallace said. Simply installing signs on state right of way requires an agreement.

“Because this is a large work, it's not as easy for us to just take it out,” she said. “One of the expectations is that the piece would be removed if something happened, and we're having a hard time understanding how we can agree to certain provisions within the contract.”

Wallace advised that selecting finalists, paying a stipend and having them develop concepts prior to the establishment of state guidelines, only to perhaps delay the process further or invalidate their work, could be a waste of money and the artists’ time, possibly tarnishing the city’s public reputation among the art community.

By a 5-0 vote, with Joanne McCobb absent, the committee agreed.

The delay in selecting finalists for City Commission approval is a bitter pill for two PAC members — Leslie Butterfield and McCobb — who are rotating off the panel at the end of the year. Their replacements will be appointed by the City Commission in December. The current committee, though, could still vote on its finalists in the event an agreement is reached in the interim. The piece will be paid for with $175,000 set aside by the developer of The Quay.


A softer landing

Not only impacting the Fruitville Road roundabout, the agreement delay also has previously approved sculptures for the traffic circles at U.S. 41 at 10th Street and at 14th Street in a holding pattern.

“There are two artists still in orbit waiting for this agreement to be approved, and they've been waiting for over two years,” Wallace said. “The contract is starting to become slightly dated. We're going to have to revisit the cost estimates and there are going to be some issues when we finally are able to mobilize.”

Meanwhile, Wallace encouraged the committee to refine its selection process for future projects. Opting to recommend a single piece, as it did for the Fruitville roundabout, rather than following the prior request for proposal process — and the resulting rejection — may have caused concern among the public and art community.

“We have another roundabout coming up,” Wallace said, referencing the under construction roundabout at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue. “We need to think a little broader on this whole package and how thoughtful we're going to be moving forward because if we start going back and forth like a roller coaster, we are going to make a lot of people seasick just watching us do this.

“Anything we can do to make this a soft landing for the public and a softer landing for the artists is really what we’re here to do.”


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