Late Thursday evening at St. Petersburg City Hall, the St. Petersburg City Council rejected – by a 4-3 vote – the proposed Janet Echelman sculpture for Spa Beach, part of the new St. Pete Pier.
Council members Gina Driscoll, Amy Foster, Steve Kornell and Ed Montanari voted against the enormous, “floating sculpture” by the popular, Massachusetts-based public artist. Council members Brandi Gabbard, Charlie Gerdes and Darden Rice voted for the sculpture. Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman was absent.
City council then requested a report and a list of the private, anonymous donors footing the bill for the sculpture. The report would consider other locations in the $76 million Pier District.
In a contentious, hours-long debate that lasted until after 9 p.m., city residents voiced their opinions of the sculpture and its proposed location at Spa Beach. Residents expressed a wide range of opinions, from ardent approval to stern dissatisfaction.
As the sculpture’s supporters noted, Echelman, a Tampa native, has her work displayed in world-class cities across the globe. A sculpture in St. Pete would elevate the city’s profile as a premier city of the arts. (Read the Catalyst interview with Echelman here.)
“This is a unique opportunity to bring an important piece of public art to St. Pete,” one supporter said.
Supporters also noted that it would bring foot traffic to Spa Beach.
Council member Rice said that Spa Beach is “green space meant to be activated, and to support waterfront activity.”
Critics of the sculpture (or of its location, at least) expressed concerns about “visual pollution,” and about the sculpture’s feasibility.
“What open government practices were used to choose this location for the sculpture?,” one citizen said.
Council member Driscoll said, “Find another location,” adding that “only one other location was explored.”
Critics worried that if the sculpture were erected at Spa Beach Park, then other parks could follow down the same path.
Citizens also expressed concerns about the sculpture’s “longevity and durability.” Council member Montanari said that the sculpture has a 25-year lifespan.
Mayor Rick Kriseman has raised $1.3 million in private donations going toward this $2.8-million project. $1.3 million of public funds have also been earmarked for the project, including $250,000 from the Public Arts Commission.
In a Facebook post, council member Kornell said, “[T]he city is a not a private institution and you, the general public, deserve to know who is making this kind of donation.”
Generally speaking, the sculpture’s supporters were in favor of raising the city’s artistic status, while the sculpture’s detractors favored a more cautious, conservative approach. Such an approach considers the integrity of Spa Beach Park, and the original intent of the city’s waterfront parks.