CLEARWATER — If only the artist had called his newly installed downtown sculpture the Purple People Eater, one City Council member said. Then maybe there wouldn't be such public outcry.
Instead, the public art known as the Sorcerer's Gate has hit some residents like a hot blast of sulphur.
And that reaction has some council members saying they want to sign off on future art placed along the newly revitalized Cleveland Street.
Artist Bruce White says the name has no meaning.
But an outpouring of public opinion expressed in letters, message boards and phone calls to city officials and the St. Petersburg Times says otherwise.
Sorcerer's Gate, a striking, purplish colored arch topped with a ringlet —some wonder if it's not a serpent's tail — has many residents outraged. Some call it the work of the devil. Others say it's a subliminal message for Scientology, whose many properties are just blocks away. At the extreme are those who say the 450-pound sculpture is just plain evil.
White, however, scoffs at the controversy.
"What are we going to do, sterilize everything?" said the 74-year-old artist, who lives part-time in Nokomis. "What about the nudity in old statues? That doesn't seem to faze anybody because maybe they've gotten used to it."
He called the accusations silly, adding that the word "sorcerer" has been in literature for hundreds of years. He questioned whether those opposing the name would "burn books like (the popular) Harry Potter series that uses the word 'sorcerer.' "
The 15-foot tall sculpture, erected last week on the median between Garden Avenue and Fort Harrison Avenue, doesn't yet bear the name Sorcerer's Gate. But those words are to be mounted next week. Most opponents aren't unhappy with the design. Just the name.
The sculpture — one of three erected last week — was selected by a panel from the Clearwater Historical Society, the Downtown Development Board and the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. It was picked out of 50 pieces submitted globally.
Monday, some City Council members made clear that from now on, they want the final say.
"We're the ones who are getting the phone calls," Mayor Frank Hibbard said during Monday's City Council work session.
Added Vice Mayor George Cretekos: "If the title were something different, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
The artwork will be displayed until July 2009. Then three more pieces of public art will be chosen for one-year showings. It's part of a project funded through a partnership with the Downtown Development Board and the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. No city tax dollars are paying for the art.
So far, the other two pieces installed last week haven't garnered near the outrage that the Sorcerer's Gate has.
"That thing downtown, on public property, it offends the Christians," said Bette Failor, 64, a Clearwater resident off and on since 1964. "I'm not angry. That's God's problem, but shame on us if we don't fight it."