ST. PETERSBURG — It appears the city will get to brag about its very own Janet Echelman sculpture after all.
Mayor Rick Kriseman has raised $1.5 million private donations to install a piece by the internationally acclaimed artist on the St. Petersburg waterfront.
Mayoral spokesman Ben Kirby said "a total of 14 contacts" have promised money for the Echelman sculpture, viewed as the signature piece of art for the $76 million Pier District currently under construction. Kirby explained that some of the "contacts" are groups of people who came together to bundle their donations.
He said Kriseman "is currently reaching back to those who have made a financial commitment" and is not ready to release the official list of those who have pledged money to bring one of Echelman’s famous billowing sculptures to the city.
The private money raised by Kriseman clears an important hurdle for the $2.8 million public art project. The city had already set aside $1.3 million in public funds to build the infrastructure, including towering poles to support the aerial net sculpture planned for the northern end of Spa Beach. The Public Arts Commission is also contributing $250,000.
The City Council will be asked at next week’s July 12 meeting to approve a $1.5 million contract — the amount raised by Kriseman — with the artist for design development, fabrication, delivery, aesthetic direction for installation, and warranty for the sculpture.
The proposed agreement calls for Echelman to start building the net sculpture by Nov. 1 and to deliver it to the city by July 30, 2019.
In an email, Echelman said it is "great news to learn of the generosity of private donors who are making this public artwork possible."
For Kriseman, the acquisition of an Echelman piece will be the realization of a much-desired goal. In fall 2016, he presented the key to the city to the Tampa native at the Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts Impact Awards dinner. At the time, it was noted that Echelman’s work had been installed in 37 cities on four continents. "And St. Petersburg hopes to be No. 38," Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said then.
More recently, the push to acquire one of the artist’s soaring sculptures, which have been installed in such places as the Cidade Salvador Plaza in Porto, Portugal, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Seattle campus has been backed by a small, influential group.
Premier Eye Care CEO Lorna Taylor, former Florida House Speaker Peter Wallace and his wife, St. Petersburg Poet Laureate Helen Pruitt Wallace, have been among the project’s boosters.
"I believe in supporting public art of this caliber that is accessible to everyone," Taylor, who acknowledged being one of the donors, said in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times.
"Apart from museums, which serve an essential role in our community, the physical and financial accessibility of public art offers everyone — including those who may not feel welcome, entitled, or cannot afford entrance fees — the opportunity to enjoy the fullest cultural experiences."
B2 Communications principal Kyle Parks, who has been working with members of the group to promote Echelman’s work to city residents, said they are "definitely thrilled" that the public money has been raised.
"It shows the level of support for this project around the city, which we have also been seeing in other ways, from people who we have been talking to, and people telling us they have been sending emails to the mayor and the City Council," Parks said.
But the project may have to overcome another obstacle. The Waterfront Parks Foundation, whose mission includes protecting the city’s downtown waterfront parks, opposes putting the Echelman sculpture on Spa Beach. Members of the group — which outlined its objections in a lengthy email to Kriseman and the council — are expected to further express their opposition at Thursday’s meeting.
"We feel that it is in the hands of the council now to decide whether parkland should be used for this sculpture," said foundation president Phil Graham Jr.
"It will remain there for 20 to 25 years and we’re just afraid that the daytime appearance, with its structural poles, will not be attractive. In fact, in my estimation, it will detract from our amazing waterfront views."
Meanwhile, Echelman, who is based in Boston, said she is looking forward "to the day when residents and visitors alike can lie down on the grass underneath my sculpture on the St. Pete waterfront and watch the changing patterns of wind ripple across it."
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.