Public Art Controversy Under Investigation
Three Sarasota city employees remain on paid leave while officials investigate whether the city parking director wrongly influenced a recommendation for his son-in-law to create art for the new State Street Parking Garage.
The city has been conducting a public search for someone to produce art in the new garage to both enhance the appearance and provide descriptive markers so users remember where vehicles were parked. Five finalists made presentations to the Public Art Committee on April 12, and the board ultimately voted 3-1 in favor of awarding the $100,000 project to Sarasota artist Mark Krucke. But that came only after Parking Director Mark Lyons, Krucke’s father-in-law, weighed in regarding concerns with a competing proposal by artists Michael Parker and Richie Brasil. “I don’t believe I would work with the City of Sarasota after that,” says Parker. “If the process they put us through was any indication how it would be to work with them, I don’t think I’d go down that road.”
Krucke says he asked early whether being related to Lyons would be a problem. The artist’s understanding was no conflict existed because Lyons doesn’t sit on the Public Art Committee. “It wasn’t his decision in any way,” Krucke says. Krucke boasts his own credentials; he recently was selected to produce bronze sculptures for display on campus at Manchester University, and past work includes public art installations in Winter Haven and Sebring, as well as in Virginia and North Carolina. He feels his art won the endorsement because of its practicality. “It’s really a functional piece of art,” he says. “Some artists missed the mark."
Public Art Committee members narrowed finalists down to mural proposals from Krucke and from Parker and Brasil. Krucke plans to theme each garage level with a species of indigenous marine life, with first-floor seahorses and herons on the top level; wall sculptures of jellyfish will also accent parts of the garage. The Parker-Brasil proposal involved demarking each level with transitioning colors, names of notable Sarasota neighborhoods and paintings of famous sculptures within the community.
The four board members initially voted 2-2 on which mural should win the recommendation, twice. After the second vote, Lyons approached the committee with concerns about the Parker-Brasil proposal, from spreading spray paint to hard-to-maintain ceiling art. “So much of what was presented, I see, logistically, challenges in it all coming to fruition,” Lyons said at the Public Art Committee on April 12. Shortly afterward, committee member Benjamin Grijalva, a student participating in the Students Take Active Roles program, changed his mind from the Parker-Brasil proposal to Krucke’s plan. “If it’s not realistic,” Grijalva said at the same meeting, “I don’t know if it’s worth the time.”
Committee chairman Norman Schimmel, who backed Krucke throughout, said he did not know of any relationship between Lyons and Krucke, and does not believe the rest of the board did either.
Lyons remains on paid administrative leave while city officials investigate the events of the meeting. Two other city employees who work with the committee, Neighborhood and Development Services General Manager David Smith and Senior Planner Clifford Smith, also are on paid leave. City officials would not speak to the matter during an ongoing investigation, according to city spokeswoman Jan Thornburg. A Public Arts Committee scheduled earlier this week was canceled.
Parker, who learned from SRQ that Lyons was Krucke’s father-in-law, has no plans to challenge the recommendation. “All over Florida this nepotism is going on,” he says. “I get it.” But the arduous process was unfair to all artists involved, he says.
Krucke knew Lyons was on leave but was “in the dark” on the investigation otherwise. “If they do reverse the decision, I believe that demonstrates some discrimination because of my family ties,” he says. “There was no favoritism in my eyes.”
Pictured: A Rendering from Mark Krucke's proposal for the State Street Parking Garage. Image courtesy of the City of Sarasota.