Passion Means Friction For The Arts

Under The Hood


Many communities claim to celebrate the arts. Professing a love for pretty things, after all, invites as little argument as a plea to remember the children. But Sarasota proves a profound love not just through a celebration but occasionally through the denigration of certain arts. Like a marriage, the soundness of the relationship may show most not in those moments when everything’s rosy, but when unconditional passion endures even through the nastiest arguments that expose embarrassing friction.

It would be easy to mistake a nasty conflict over plans for murals at the State Street Parking Garage as a sign of disdain for art, but I would argue the opposite. If you missed it, concerns about nepotism and an undisclosed conflict of interest resulted this week in Sarasota City Commissioners unanimously cancelling the original call for artists, effectively rejecting a proposal from Mark Krucke, an artist whose work became tainted thanks to failure on the part of his father-in-law, Parking Director Mark Lyons, to make their relationship known before swaying the Public Art Committee to endorse Krucke’s proposal for the garage.

Krucke, his reputation now collateral damage in an administrative scandal, told city commissioners this week this decision to punish artists would relay the wrong message to the creative community. Of course, outside a group of supportive friends and family of Krucke, that community largely expressed outrage the art selection process could go so wrong, and more outrage likely would plague a decision to give Krucke the $100,000 job.

Of note, this scandal follows a number of controversies in this community surrounding public art. The selection process for the State Street garage tried largely to avoid a repeat of the disliked-in-some-quarters mural of giant frightening eyes painted in the Palm Avenue garage by French muralist MTO. That artist also sparked a noisy debate in Newtown regarding a since-removed mural depicted a resident’s fingers crossed in a way mildly resembling a gang sign. A plan for a series of related sculptures in Downtown a few years back blew up over accusations a committee formed absent any adherence to the Sunshine Law. And of course, there’s Unconditional Surrender, a Seward Johnson ripoff of a famous photo that folks in town will tell you serves either as a reminder of the Greatest Generation’s sacrifice or of how a garish monstrosity that looks like paper mache can elicit enough emotion to win a prominent place on the Bayfront.

You’d think all the intense debates and “bad messages” broadcast would have scared away every creative by now. Instead, Sarasota hosts a world-class arts college and an inventory of museums, galleries and theaters that makes most mid-sized metropoles envious. The Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County will proudly inform you this region employs more artists per capita than anywhere in the country outside Manhattan. That adds up to a community that doesn’t merely celebrate. Sarasota cares about the arts.

Maybe Krucke’s work deserved a place on State Street regardless of his family connections. Perhaps more folks love the kissing sailor than hate it. It’s possible MTO’s work ought to have remained in Newtown. But scrutiny here shows, regardless of outcomes, that every public artwork earns attention from the public. That’s something every artist wants, and gets if they work here.

Sarasota City Commissioners, one should note, could have scrapped the idea of garage art completely, but, despite already having eaten thousands on a derailed process, decided to issue another call to artists. That’s likely a reflection as well of the desire for an urban canvas over a concrete jungle, and proof that, even when art goes astray, Sarasota won’t let it go away.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

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