Monday, February 19, 2018
Politics

Carlton: Public art seeks a place in the heart of Tampa

Tampa has its interesting public art, from metal horses on Bayshore Boulevard to theatrically lighted downtown bridges to all the sculpture, statuary and such in between.

But sometimes we struggle, artwise. A massive metal sculpture nicknamed the Exploding Chicken once graced (or marred, depending on your perspective) a respectable corner outside a tall downtown office building. A bona fide Sugarman piece, it was nonetheless shunned and exiled until it was recently reborn at a kitschier spot in a traffic roundabout near the Channelside entertainment complex. It seems much happier there.

The latest dustup is over a piece by Yaacov Agam titled Visual Welcome — 10 feet high, brightly colored aluminum panels that appear to move as you pass. Tucked near the edge of a park where pretty much no one saw it, Visual Welcome was bound for better digs at a spot along Tampa's graceful, well-traveled Bayshore Boulevard.

Not so fast. Some residents objected, worried that the art would block water views. Apparently, there was also some confusion about its size. And at least one person thought Visual Welcome meant city officials were about hoist a big "Welcome!" sign in front of the mansions on Tampa's toniest street. As if.

The good news: Bayshore is a long and winding road with enough median for everyone, says City Council member Harry Cohen. "The key with these things is finding the right spot," he says. "In a city that is hundreds of square miles, we can find the right spot."

Hey, the chicken found its roost. It can happen.

Speaking of art, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says he is not against that patchwork of colorful graffiti visiting rowing crews traditionally paint along the Hillsborough River seawalls. He says he's only interested in erasing a piece of it by the Kennedy Boulevard bridge to make way for a public art light installation on the Riverwalk.

Me, I think it would be nice if art-to-come could work around art-already-here. But if the City Council is inclined to agree to removing piece after hearing from the public, hopefully they will be able to give firm assurances this isn't the first step toward ending a Tampa tradition.

And did Buckhorn, a man who does not shy from a camera, miss a major photo opportunity this week — at the opening of his public park legacy, no less?

(Want proof of said legacy? Note what's etched in stone at the entrances to the new park on the river just north of downtown: WATER WORKS PARK ESTABLISHED 2014 MAYOR BOB BUCKHORN, it says in deeply grooved letters. Yes, one of those park plaques that includes the names of City Council members is coming, too, the mayor confirmed.)

Contenders for what's best in the new park abound: The sweeping river views? The flowing spring? And right up there is a giant elevated yellow bucket at the splash park that regularly fills with water and tips to soak everyone below.

So if you are a mayor who does love his photo ops — in a fighter jet, clad in shamrocks, riding a bike in a tie — how are you not in that splash shot?

"I thought about that all weekend long," the mayor said. "You don't know how close I came" — held back only by thought of himself pictured in a soaked T-shirt and an 8-year-old daughter who might never speak to him again.

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