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  1. St. Petersburg

Janet Echelman reveals billowing sculpture for St. Pete Pier

The Massachusetts-based artist unveils her design during a speech in Tampa

TAMPA — Janet Echelman, the Tampa-born artist commissioned to create one of her famous billowing net sculptures for the St. Petersburg Pier, unveiled her design Wednesday at a regional conference held at Tampa's Armature Works.

She calls her new creation "Bending Arc'' and said the significance of the piece is that it is about inclusion, "embracing everyone to come to this place."

Like the sculptures she has created in countries around the world, it's colorful and airy. The work will be 76 feet at its highest point, 428 feet wide at its widest and will require 84 miles of twine and more than a million knots. Around it, there may be hammocks so people can experience the sculpture as it sways in the wind and light. It's something she has requested from the city and the Pier's landscape architect, Echelman said.

"It will be my largest permanent piece to date,'' she told the large crowd gathered for an Urban Land Institute conference, at which she was a keynote speaker.

For Echelman, who has had installations around the world, from Australia to the Netherlands to the United Arab Emirates, and will have new pieces soon in South Korea, India, Hong Kong and Germany, having her work showcased locally is the fulfillment of a dream.

"There's nothing better than coming home," she said. "You can only imagine what it means to bring my artwork to share with Tampa Bay."

She later added, "This is my chance to give back."

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has long desired the acquisition of an Echelman piece. In 2016, he presented the key to the city to the Tampa native at the Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts Impact Awards dinner. At the time, it was noted that Echelman's work had been installed in 37 cities on four continents. "And St. Petersburg hopes to be No. 38," Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said then.

Echelman, who is based in Massachusetts, has a $1.5 million contract with St. Petersburg to erect her creation at the city's $80 million, 26-acre Pier District that is expected to be near completion at the end of this year.

The overall cost of the project is not yet clear, though Echelman said her costs have not changed. The city had previously said that the artwork's infrastructure, which includes its foundation, lighting and steel pilings, would cost about $1.3 million in public funds.

Recently, though, city architect Raul Quintana told the Tampa Bay Times that no firm cost was yet available. Kriseman, who pushed for what has been described as a "signature" piece of art, has raised $1.2 million in private funds for the art itself.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Names of donors for proposed Echelman artwork released

St. Petersburg officials, who had seen the design before Wednesday, seemed unperturbed that the public unveiling occured across the bay.

"Yes, we received the designs," mayoral spokesman Ben Kirby said, adding that he's sure that they will be included in a Pier presentation scheduled for the Feb. 7 City Council meeting.

"Janet Echelman is a world-class, international artist, and it doesn't matter to us where she shows off her work," Kirby said. "When completed, it will be part of a global destination here in St. Pete."

Echelman, who spoke about playing at the Pier as a child and of using its history as a tourist stop as inspiration for her designs — the barnacles she saw, for instance — noted that her talk in Tampa about the St. Petersburg sculpture was shared at a regional conference focused on livability in cities.

"I confirmed months ago to speak about creativity and placemaking here, and this Tampa Bay venue seemed a perfect place to talk about the sculpture most important in my heart — the one in my hometown," she said.

"The sculpture is funded by private donors and the city is funding the infrastructure. Today I spoke only about the sculpture's design process and I have not spoken about the city-funded infrastructure, which will be discussed at an upcoming City Council meeting."

Echelman, who grew up on Davis Islands, said her sculpture is expected to be completed in December.

"We will begin extruding the custom-colored PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) fiber, which is 100 percent UV resistant. Then we will braid the twine, which will be loomed and shaped and knotted into the sculpture," she said.

"We are ready to begin as soon as the City Council approves the beginning of fabrication."

The art will be fabricated over the next nine months and will arrive ready to be installed, she said. Installation should take about a week.

Times staff writer Caitlin Johnston contributed to this report.

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