GULFPORT — A wall in City Hall will remain bare, at least for the time being. A recent request to create a mural in council chambers yielded no takers.
In March, the city decided to seek bids from area artists for a mural to capture the history or character of the city. The back wall of the council chambers was the designated canvas, and artists would be required to incorporate the city's seal and two standing flags into the design.
Surprisingly for a city with an active arts community, a mandatory site meeting on July 15 went unattended.
Though the "Call for Artists" appeared as a legal notice in the Tampa Bay Times and in a weekly neighborhood paper and appeared on the city's website, mygulfport.us, it apparently missed many of the very people the city needed — the artists.
Computer graphics artist Mike Eismont, who has been active in the area art scene for three years, knew nothing of the city's request.
"I'm not aware of any outreach to Gulfport's artists," he said. "If you want to get the community involved, you have to involve the community.''
Jennifer Salmon, who represents Ward 3, agrees that the city could have done a better job informing area artists.
"I'm unaware of any information shared directly with the art community,'' she said. "We have the Gulfport Arts Council, and the city has an arts advisory committee. I'm surprised we didn't make it a point to let more people know about the project.''
While Jonathan Schork, a highly visible member of Gulfport's art scene, was aware of the request, he readily admits that the information didn't penetrate the city's art community. He's also concerned the budget is low for such a project.
"It would probably cost twice as much as the $2,500 allocated," he said, adding that the idea of a mural representing Gulfport's eclectic personality is exciting.
Schork, who works in several mediums and serves on the boards of the City of Imagination and the Industrial Arts Center, hopes that if the council decides to reopen the bidding process, there could be a possibility of finding matching funds.
A 2011 "Call for Artists" — to create a sculpture at the north end of the city's Clymer Park — had a better response with five bids from area artists. The winning design, a whimsical ceramic sculpture that incorporates the city's beach, artistic and dining interests, was created by Gulfport artist Thomas Pitzen, who was paid $11,000.
City Manager Jim O'Reilly has said he will ask the council at its Aug. 8 workshop if it wants to reopen the mural project.
Ward 2 council member Christine Brown, who initially brought the mural idea to the council, thinks the call for bids should be reissued.
"I'd hate to see the project die," she said.
Diane Craig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.