Back in April, when the city's cultural affairs manager position fell to budget cuts, many local artists questioned St. Petersburg's commitment to the arts.
It seems the city's loss is the private sector's gain.
Since that time, Ann Wykell has been busy as a consultant for the Arts Selection Committee at the new All Children's Hospital.
The All Children's Hospital Foundation set aside money in the construction budget for various amenities, including $250,000 for art.
Some of the money was used to purchase artwork, but the committee, under the leadership of Barbara Sansone, was charged with commissioning original work by local artists.
"I started working on the committee about three years ago after being approached by Joel Momberg, then-vice president of All Children's Foundation," said Sansone.
"(I thought), 'let's take an opportunity to put something other than poster art in the new hospital.' The first thing I did was go to Charlotte, N.C., to tour a new hospital and spoke with a group from their committee about the process," she said.
The theme at All Children's was "exploring the Suncoast," with a focus on art that children of all ethnic backgrounds would find appealing, she said.
"When we asked Ann to come on board, she was still working for the city. She gave us ideas on how to solicit for public art and how to do an 'all call to artists,' " said Sansone.
"We would have floundered without her guidance. She knows a lot about local artists," she added.
With its $250,000 budget, the committee was able to focus on getting original artwork.
First, the committee commissioned Ray King's suspended sculpture in the hospital's atrium, said Wykell. The work, made from dichroic glass, can be viewed from the first and second floors. An internationally known artist, King also has work at the J.W. Cate Recreation Center at 5801 22nd Ave. N.
Artists were invited to present proposals to the committee, which identified areas of the hospital where art would have the most impact. The committee eventually selected the work of 40 artists, 36 from Florida and all but four of those from the greater St. Petersburg metropolitan area.
"Of the 40, there were eight commissions, plus Ray King; the rest were purchases of existing work," said Wykell.
Included in the commissioned work is a mural at the entrance of the hospital cafeteria by local artist Neverne Covington, who spent weeks on scaffolding to complete the work.
In addition, two doctors underwrote the cost of the door to the hospital's chapel. Drs. Gary and Stacie Stapelton, who work in different departments of the hospital, decided a chapel door by architectural glass artist Lenn Neff would be a perfect contribution.
In some instances, local art students donated work for the hospital.
The Morean Arts Center contributed ceramic fish designed by students in the center's programs. The colorful fish are displayed throughout the dialysis unit.
Local graphic designer David Meek came up with the design concepts throughout the hospital and the layout for the rooms.
Wykell said the hospital used a "groundbreaking approach'' in acquiring licensing agreements with the artists so that their works can be translated into various media.
"We wanted to use a variety of ways to present the artwork," said Wykell. "So digital files were applied to a new material called fusion — which looks like acrylic."
The artwork's image is fused in the material and will be placed in areas like waiting rooms and nurses stations where you otherwise couldn't place a framed picture, she said.
One of the challenges was to include pieces that work in a hospital and with children — particularly with the families — so a lot of thought went into who would benefit from the artwork.
"My job was to research the artists and their work, but artists in the community were incredibly generous,'' said Wykell. "They all had the same reaction in that they really would love to have their work in this setting."
When All Children's officially opens its doors on Jan. 9, it will house at least 40 works that reflect the collective talents of a burgeoning arts community. Let's hope the city officials who supported the decision to cut Wykell's position from the city budget are paying attention.