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Oldsmar leaders turn thumbs down on proposed public art project

OLDSMAR — When a Tarpon Springs artist illustrated a near $25,000 public art proposal with crude color-pencil sketches, Mayor Jim Ronecker didn't hold back.

"My 9-year-old daughter could've drawn this," he said. "I vote no."

Poster boards displayed at a City Council meeting Tuesday depicted a cartoonish kayaker, BMX biker, dolphin and armadillo, all to be rendered in aluminum and hung on a city-owned building at 510 St. Petersburg Drive E.

Robin Saenger, an artist and former Tarpon Springs city commissioner, worked with Oldsmar's Leisure Services Advisory Board to design the proposal.

The $24,750 cost for the art project would be funded through Oldsmar's Art in Public Places program, which requires developers of any commercial project in the city to contribute 1 percent of the project's budget for public art. The city also contributes 1 percent for any city construction project.

Saenger's animals and athletes, to be hand painted bright reds, yellows and blues, could be relocated around Oldsmar if the building were someday demolished, she said.

But some council members didn't like the concept.

"This doesn't represent the city of Oldsmar," said Vice Mayor Jerry Beverland. "This is not a criticism of the work. It's a criticism of the idea."

"Did you want something more historical?" Saenger asked.

"It doesn't have to be historical," he replied. "But it doesn't have to be comical."

Public art is central to Oldsmar's historic identity, Beverland said Friday. As a council member in 1994, he suggested the idea of a public art ordinance. The city's public art fund is now clearly defined and regularly fueled.

The Art in Public Places Program funded, for example, the bronze statues of children that stand around the city.

"Whatever you put out here says something about the city," said Beverland, an art dealer who has sold paintings to Christie's in New York. "What's important is what the whole council can come together on something that represents the culture of our city."

Archeologists digging up ancient civilizations learn from art, Beverland mused.

"Atlas holding the world makes a statement in Chicago. The Bull on Wall Street in New York. Abraham Lincoln in D.C.," he said.

"I don't want an armadillo representing the city of Oldsmar."

That's not to disrespect Saenger or the Leisure Services Advisory Board, he said, but the cartoon-like pieces the artist proposed would look better inside the library. Both Saenger and the advisory board, he said, have previously produced fine work.

"Usually they come up with good ideas," Ronecker said at the meeting Tuesday. "On this one, I just don't agree."

Council members voted 3-2 not to commission the artwork.

"What are we going to do now?" Council member Linda Norris asked. "We have to have art."

The members agreed to consider another proposal, which will be pitched by Saenger and the Leisure Services Advisory Board, at a future meeting. The revised piece, all parties agreed, should be a standalone work, such as a metal sculpture, somewhere downtown.

"But not a car," Norris said, laughing. "We have enough of those."

Danielle Paquette can be reached at dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Oldsmar leaders turn thumbs down on proposed public art project 02/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 6:51pm]
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