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Largo commission approves mural design for new community center

Artist Cindy Kessler says she created her mural design for Largo’s new community center as a complement to the windows and the building itself.

Kessler Studios

Artist Cindy Kessler says she created her mural design for Largo’s new community center as a complement to the windows and the building itself.

The Feb. 2 meeting ended with a cliffhanger for artist Cindy Kessler, who was watching Largo commissioners decide the fate of her mural proposal on a computer screen 1,000 miles away in Loveland, Ohio.

She couldn't help but silently protest their scepticism.

"I went online and watched the commissioners' reactions," she said. "There were so many instances where I found myself talking to the computer."

At times, Largo's decisionmakers were blunt.

There was Commissioner Curtis Holmes: "I'd rather get Highland rec fixed than do this project at all."

But …

Then there was Commissioner Gigi Arntzen, who couldn't get past the whole Ohio thing: "Somehow I think we've overlooked some local talent."

Wait …

And then, Commissioner Harriet K. Crozier: "I do not care for that … For some reason, it doesn't do it for me. I just don't feel it."

If only they understood.

The commissioners moved to wait until the next meeting, on Tuesday, to come to a final decision. Should they really spend $90,000 on Kessler's expansive mural design for the city's new community center?

Out of 110 artists who submitted proposals for the center after the city sent out a nationwide call to artists, Kessler's was judged the best. It was selected by a city panel composed of local residents and artist experts.

Panel member Carolann Mancuso, who has lived in Largo for 40 years and taught art in the county for 38, said Kessler's sample designs evoked excitement and color, and showed she could create something that represented a cross-section of the community.

"It had to be something that a child would walk up to and say, 'Ooh, look, Mommy, color!' " Mancuso said — but appeal to teenagers and seniors, too.

A mayor and six commissioners, each with his or her own ideas about art and public spending, can be tough to convince.

So Kessler called her contact at the city.

"Can I come down on my own dime and explain?" she asked.

Sometimes, convincing the critics takes an artist's touch.

She flew to Largo from Ohio for the city's Tuesday commission meeting. She gave the presentation herself.

Kessler spoke of softening elements and the "character" of materials, and geometric forms that "move fluidly through the trees."

She explained how the community center's architect chose to make the center's windows resemble tree canopies.

But architect Jason Jenen's window-trees, Kessler said, were tall "and terribly alone."

From that, she was inspired to make her sculpture the understory — a complement to the building itself, not merely some bolted-on pretty thing.

And she brought touchable samples of the multicolored glass she planned to use, and a more detailed rendering of the mural.

Kessler said after the meeting she thought her personal appearance was important — she said everything she wanted to say two weeks earlier, when she was grumbling to her computer.

"It made a difference. That understanding made all the difference in the world," she said.

By the commissioners' votes, it indeed did.

Crozier's evaluation made a complete reversal.

"Your explanation is what I needed. Plus, the fact that I did not realize, the architect had a theme here," Crozier said. "I thought it was just windows. I never realized it was supposed to represent a tree. I like it. I really do."

And Holmes, who most vocally spoke against approving the art on purely economic grounds, voted for the project after a suggestion from Commissioner Mary Gray Black.

"I have an idea," Black told Kessler, pointing at her rendering of the mural.

Black wanted to make 900 portrait-sized copies of Kessler's mural design, and sell signed and numbered prints for $100 each.

"It would be paid for — and the community would have supported it themselves," Black said.

Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve the art, with Robert Murray dissenting.

Each commissioner, plus City Manager Mac Craig, said he or she would buy one of the prints.

Dominick Tao can be reached at dtao@sptimes.com or (727) 580-2951.

Largo commission approves mural design for new community center 02/20/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2010 5:49pm]
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