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Tarpon wary of free art that has strings attached

The city is considering a policy that would require an artist to waive the right to sue as a condition of a donation.

If the city accepts a piece of artwork as a gift, there's a lot more to be done than say, "Thanks for the statue," the city attorney and a city administrator believe.

Federal legislation gives artists the right to sue _ even after they've given up ownership of their works _ if the art is damaged, altered or destroyed, or if the artist is not given credit for creating it.

A lawsuit like that could make a free piece of art pretty expensive.

"We need to have a complete understanding with the artist that once they give the work to us, we have control over what we do with the work after that," City Attorney John Hubbard said.

A draft of an artwork acceptance policy the City Commission discussed last week would require artists to waive those rights as a condition of a donation. It would also require city employees to estimate the costs of displaying and properly maintaining artwork.

And it would require artists to submit resumes, recommendations from other artists, and examples of other works they have done. That data in hand, the staff would make a recommendation to the City Commission, which would have the final authority.

Those requirements should ensure that the city accepts only high-quality pieces and that the city understands what accepting art will cost, said Kathy Monahan, the city's cultural affairs administrator.

The city has been offered artwork several times over the years, most recently as part of the rebuilding of streets and sidewalks in the Sponge Docks district, she said.

"There has been so much talk about people donating statuary down at the docks," she said. "We have actually thought there might be an appropriate time or place down there, but how do you accept something?"

Though the art policy's procedures may sound bureaucratic, the things it requires are typical of art transactions, said Tarpon Springs painter and sculptor Elizabeth Indianos.

She often creates artwork for display by public and private groups.

"I have everything substantial written into a contract" by a Tampa lawyer, she said.

Such agreements typically include who has the right to make and sell copies of the work and can also cover things like what happens to the work if the recipient no longer wants it.

Indianos also likes to negotiate for the first right to repair damage to her artworks, such as when an outdoor mural fades or chips, she said. She recently restored a star-burst mural she and other artists had created 20 years earlier on the wall of a city building in Craig Park.

Indianos believes in the right to sue that the federal Visual Artists Rights Act, passed in 1990, gives to artists after they give up ownership of their work.

For instance, she was dismayed when a building owner painted over a historical mural she created on the side of a downtown Tarpon Springs building years ago.

But she also sees things from the city's perspective, and she agrees the city should be careful about what it accepts, and under what terms.

"If a government doesn't think very carefully about it, they could have a piece of junk up there, and maybe people want it down," she said.