- November 4, 2022
Even when you mind your P’s and Q’s, sometimes you can still find yourself in a quandary. That’s where Sarasota’s Public Arts Committee found itself when the City Commission on April 18 rejected its recommendation of Dwell, a coral-style sculpture by artist Sujin Lim for the roundabout at Fruitville Road and Tamiami Trail.
The Dwell recommendation was the first product of the PAC’s new request for quote process, having previously procured options for public pieces via request for proposal.
Underwhelmed by the PAC’s preferred Dwell — and not much more enthusiastic about its other two finalists — the commission sent PAC Chair Wendy Lerner and Sarasota Senior Planner Mary Davis Wallace back to the committee with a message: Bring back something locally relevant, and bring more than a single recommendation.
“I was hoping in this different (request for quote) process that we would bring a single selection to you,” Wallace, who heads the Office of Public Art, told commissioners at that meeting. “That way, the efficacy of the Public Art Committee is preserved. It's difficult when the public art committee makes a decision, but then we go back to the drawing board when we bring it to commission.”
Back to the drawing board they went, but not back to the beginning. During Wednesday’s PAC meeting, members discussed for some 90 minutes options ranging from initiating a new request for quote to working singularly with Lim to submit a new piece.
Options in between included revisiting the original 140 applicants for the project, reconsidering the PAC’s top 10 or considering only the three finalists plus two previous selected alternates. The other two finalists — which were included commissioners’ packets but not recommended by the PAC — were Whorligig, a stainless steel representation of three orchids by Mark Aeling of St. Petersburg, and Open Gate, a blue stylized archway made of architectural glass over a steel structure by Shan Shan Sheng of San Francisco.
Ultimately, the committee decided to revisit the top 10 artists and either reconsider prior submissions for the roundabout or invite new ones. The general consensus was re-opening the process from the beginning would result in largely the same field of candidates.
Wallace said she will construct a new timeframe for the PAC’s work relative to the roundabout project and suggest dates for a special meeting in early June.
None of the finalists, city commissioners generally agreed, spoke to Sarasota’s history or geographic relevance. The PAC’s mission now is to invite candidates to try again without stifling creativity by imposing excessive guidelines.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Lerner said she viewed commissioners’ rejection of Dwell and the others was an opportunity for the PAC to step up its game. She also said it was a signal for members of the committee to become more involved in their advocacy of recommended pieces. Two other PAC members attended the April 18 meeting.
“I think that a lot of times some of us are just amenable to pieces that we know should be reworked,” Lerner said. “I think the other thing is, as we're making decisions, even more broadly think about the overall collection. The commission has asked us to go back and rethink this choice, and it's an opportunity for us to do better.”
Wallace advised the committee that, in the interest of efficiency, it should work within the current request for quote, with one important tweak — provide the candidates, assuming they all wish to continue to participate, with a creative brief that lays out parameters that stop short of a theme. The idea is to foster creativity within the realm of what commissioners — who have a vocal and critical citizenry in their ears — are seeking in public art going forward.
“I got some conflicting information because on the one hand we are saying we need to listen to what the commissioners are saying, and then within that same conversation turned it around and said we all need to fight for our choice,” said PAC member Joanne McCobb. “I don't know. I just feels like there's a conflict there.”
Wallace said where public art intersects with politics, conflict is inevitable.
“We’re dealing with elected officials,” she said. “We’re dealing with people who are constantly being barraged with public comment. I can tell you that it's very difficult sometimes to not listen to public feedback, and we we encourage public feedback, but I also feel like there's a difference between this committee unanimously selecting something and standing behind this process and not seeing that through the lens of the people we're trying to convince.
“There was a missing step there because you were unanimous on what you felt, but not one time did anybody ask how is this going to be seen by the City Commission. I think that's the responsibility of this committee is to be considerate of the next step.”
That next step will continue when the PAC reconvenes early next month.