An Unsuspected Task For Council
By Anne McKay Garris
When Clearwater City Council members take office they pledge to support the Constitution of the United States, uphold the laws of the State of Florida and do a host of other things. No where in the pledge, however, do they promise to be art critics.
Certainly not! Back in 2005, the Council drew up an ordinance that stated six very lofty reasons why Clearwater should have some "public" art and set forth requirements for both city buildings and private buildings that will be open to the public to fund public art in some manner. Those buildings costing less than $5 million in "aggregate job value" are exempt, but others must participate, by law, in bringing art to Clearwater. No city project, or private project will be required to spend more than $200,000 on this required art.
The ordinance called for a committee, to be named the Public Art And Design Board. This board is made up of representatives from the Clearwater Arts Foundation and the Pinellas County Arts Council, in addition to an architect, a landscape architect, an urban planner, one active professional artist and three ordinary citizens who know something about art, education or community affairs. The task of helping choose the public artwork and approving the final choice rested with these volunteer citizens. They are also assigned to determine locations for the art and overseeing the maintenance of the works, just for openers.
In 2008, the Public Art generated by the building of a city-owned project was commissioned for the new fire station at Belcher Road and Logan Street. This is a Penny For Pinellas project and $48,000 of the cost of the building has been designated for the art work. It is in the process of being created by North Carolina artist, Christopher Fennell, whose incidental tie to Clearwater is the fact that he was born at Morton Plant Hospital. The art piece will be made from decommissioned fire ladders woven into a "fire ball" with space on the design for the names of fire fighters honored by the City of Clearwater.
This, however, is not the project which lead to designating the City Council Members as art critics. That was a public art project which bears the unfortunate name of "Sorcerer's Gate" and graces the latest Downtown Clearwater streetscape. Although chosen by the City's Public Art And Design Board and approved for use in the Clearwater's public area, this particular piece was not purchased, but loaned to the city with all expenses of transporting and erecting borne by the artist. The only public expense for placing it on Cleveland Street was paid by the Downtown Development Board which is funded by a special tax on the Downtown, paid for only by Downtown property owners.
In July, this art work will be removed and replaced by another, hopefully less controversial piece. The well publicized "gate", decorated with jagged pieces of metal, created a public outcry and both Council members and City Hall received a storm of protests from citizens, some of whom referred to the art as "satan's gate." The Council members listened to unhappy comments about an art work, which they had never seen, because the 2005 ordinance did not require their input for approval.
So, at tonight's City Council meeting, on second hearing, a change to the ordinance will state that "the Public Art and Design Board will review proposed artwork and prepare a recommendation for commission, subject to review and approval by City Council."
One asks, "Is this political censorship?"
The answer is, "No, or course not. Just a desire that our public art not be overly offensive to the citizenry."
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