Artists Elated, but Fear City Will Invest Only in 'Safe Art'

By Yee, Ivette M. | The Florida Times Union, May 10, 2002 | Go to article overview

Artists Elated, but Fear City Will Invest Only in 'Safe Art'


Yee, Ivette M., The Florida Times Union


Byline: Ivette M. Yee, Times-Union staff writer

********** CORRECTION May 11, 2002

Jacksonville's Art in Public Places Commission includes two members that are minorities. Because of a reporter's error, a story on Page A-1 yesterday said there was only one minority on the commission.

***************

Jacksonville's Art in Public Places program promises a city filled with art.

In the next two years, the city will go on a $2.8 million art shopping spree.

For Jacksonville, it's a chance to begin building a reputation as a city that cares about art. For regional artists, it's the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to put their work before more than just the gallery crowd.

But while artists are elated that the program is beginning, there are concerns that City Hall will spend dollars on "safe art," and that only Jacksonville's high-profile artists will have the opportunity to create.

City officials say that won't happen and they are confident the group appointed to oversee the program will make the right choices.

A pending ordinance to amend the Art in Public Places program requires at least 25 percent of the art selected be created by artists living in the region. However, city council and arts officials are debating the exact percentage.

Mayor John Delaney has appointed an Art in Public Places Commission to oversee the program. The commission will choose an art selection committee, which will select artwork that costs more than $25,000, and an art advisory committee for artwork less than that amount.

The c's of that idea -- a commission and committee selected by the city -- are what worry some observers.

"I'd hate for the selection committee to be determined by political connections," said Ellen McCany, an artist advocate at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum. "I believe it should be a diverse group with an interest in the arts and active in the community . . . and please, not all white men that wear suits."

Not exactly.

The Art in Public Places Commission is made up of 11 members that include a museum director, an accountant and an arts educator. Commission members said they are arts supporters with track records to prove it.

"These are some of the finest people I have had to work with," said Alton Yates, a former city administrator who is also an artist and the husband of Councilwoman Gwen Yates. "We will select art based on quality, and the community will be very pleased with the results."

The ordinance would require that the art selection committee be made up of five to seven members, including up to three community representatives, one artist or art professional. Currently, the city law requires one artist, a design professional associated with the building project and three community representatives.

It is not clear whether having fewer artists will affect the committee's art choices.

Atlanta's nine-member Public Art Advisory Committee requires that it have five art professionals, including working visual artists. It also has a Stakeholders Committee that helps select public art and it must include working visual artists. However, Nashville's committee need only include one visual artist and five community representatives.

"I think there should be people on the committee that know about art, not just people who know what they like," said Enzo Torcoletti, a sculptor from St. Augustine who has created public artwork for the National Guard Training Center at Camp Blanding and the Freedom Commerce Centre in Baymeadows. Others worry that community members will outnumber artists.

"Quite frankly it is going to be a balance for us, a balance of interests," said Audrey McKibbin Moran, Delaney's chief of staff. "We want not only the artists' view of what art is, but the community's as well. …

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