CLEARWATER — Over the objections of its mayor, Clearwater will spend more than $100,000 on a piece of public artwork that few members of the public may actually get to see.
The City Council voted 3-2 Thursday night to approve the art that will be placed inside Clearwater's new main fire station.
The artwork will be a large orb made of 700 pounds of small, hand-blown glass spheres that will hang from the ceiling of the station's three-story entrance lobby. Titled Accumulate, the artwork is intended to represent a burst of water draining from fire hoses being hung to dry.
"I don't think we need to spend $106,000 for a public work inside a building that very few people are going to see," said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who was on the losing end of Thursday night's vote.
The new downtown fire station, which will double as the Clearwater Fire Department's headquarters, is being built at 1140 Court St. on a highly visible spot along the main route to Clearwater Beach. It's nearly completed.
At this stage, it's not entirely clear how visible the artwork will be to passing motorists on the fast-moving road.
"Are you going to able to see it?" asked City Council member Bill Jonson, who also voted against the sculpture. He noted that the fire station's windows are tinted, and an exterior beam would partly block the view of the artwork from outside.
"It will be visible and unvisible at various points during the day, depending on how the sun is and the reflection coming off the glass," said Christopher Hubbard, public art specialist for Clearwater. "At night, the piece will be lit, and that lighting magnified by the reflection coming off those glass spheres will enhance the facility so it will have a nighttime presence."
Many of Clearwater's other municipal buildings have public artwork, but the pieces are outside. The fire station is being built right next to Court Street, leaving no room for an outdoor sculpture, said fire Chief Robert Weiss.
Penny for Pinellas sales taxes are paying for the $11 million fire station and the artwork. Clearwater requires municipal construction projects that cost more than $500,000 to dedicate 1 percent of the budget to public art, but that artwork doesn't have to be installed at that particular building. The City Council could have spent the money on art elsewhere.
Most council members said they trusted that the artist, well-regarded Maine sculptor Aaron Stephan, would be able to make the piece work with some further tweaking of the design.
"I think it has the potential to make a very dynamic statement," council member Hoyt Hamilton said.
"It highlights the building," Jay Polglaze added.
"This is a very fabulous artist," said council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito. "For people that don't understand art, it's pretty exciting."
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