Visual Art Commentaries

Can Public Art Be Depoliticized?
VIRGINIA HOFFMAN, SRQDaily March 17, 2011

Politics has been at the root of the public art controversies in Sarasota. That’s my favorite theory at least. When still on the City of Sarasota Public Art Advisory Board I proposed the City Commissioners transfer final approval of public art projects to the Advisory Board as is done in other places. My thinking was a savvy politician would want to keep the process in the hands of qualified advisors and a better public art program would result. That was a different Commission than we have now, and while one member then was amiable to the idea, the majority did not wish to transfer this power. If I were an elected official, it would be a relief to have that which can be a most annoying bone of contention passed onto another authority to take the heat. Controversies over parking meters and park benches are enough. Why would I want a culture war, too? At the state level and in densely populated municipalities, you are more likely to find public art programs left in the hands of experts. For example, Dade County’s Arts and Public Places has a panel of just three experts who have final say and public art projects are administered by professional art coordinators. Within these environments, unsolicited public art proposals would never make it to the table for discussion. Not so in Sarasota. Anyone can slap an idea on the Commission table out of the blue and ask for Public Art funds and staff time with no polices requiring a professional proposal or even anything in writing. When this happens, the gears of progress screech to a halt. Uninvited presenters launch media campaigns with emotional appeals of urgency and unsubstantiated claims. Lobbyists who hold social/political clout energize passions. It is so typical of our public art controversies resulting in clowns and superfluous kitschy statuary. The very nature of art as an intellectual endeavor, where the most intimate of human emotions are involved, makes the notion of “Public Art” a contradiction in terms. If the process of art is kept between the creator and observer, this communication remains sacred and somewhat confidential. Get a third party involved, even just one more person, and the purity of the art experience becomes political. Therefore any notion or idea to depoliticize public art in Sarasota must have been a pipe dream. Perhaps if public art were tailored more closely to how Planning and Development works, it would lessen the corruption of this process. At any rate, this writer would welcome a renovation of our public art program.