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Sarasota Public Art Plan approved, doubles support from private developers

Written by on Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Sarasota City Commission unanimously voted to approve the plan, which doubles the fee luxury developers have to pay to support public art in order to match other competing Florida cities.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: August 23, 2023


Official Transcript

Host: At the Sarasota City Commission meeting on Monday, all five commissioners backed a plan to double the fee luxury developers have to pay to support public art. Rising competition by other cities catching up quickly with Sarasota’s status as a hub for the arts in Florida was a major argument in a session marked by enthusiastic support on all sides. Our news team has been following this topic. 

Mary Davis Wallace: Thank you. [Cheers and applause]

Kyle Battie: This is like, one of those times that we let people clap. [Laughter]

Host: The audience erupted in applause and cheers, and prompted Mayor Kyle Battie to joke about it after all five City Commissioners voted Monday to adopt a comprehensive plan outlining the city’s Public Arts Program through 2030. This came after 15 artists, gallery owners and other members of the arts community testified in support of the plan.

Mary Davis Wallace was hired a couple of years ago as Public Art Manager to spearhead arts initiatives by the city and outreach to artists. She spent much of her time and energy on drawing up the first comprehensive Public Art Plan. The process involved four community workshops, close to 800 people giving input to a survey, media interviews and many, many one-on-one discussions.

In her presentation to the commissioners, she underlined affordability challenges for artists and gallery owners, and how that contrasts with the economic benefits the arts and artists have brought to everyone in town. She also pointed out how Sarasota has been falling behind other Florida cities that are pursuing art more aggressively than before. She mentioned St. Petersburg repeatedly.

Davis Wallace’s comprehensive plan aspires to make Sarasota “a leading city for public art experience.” Among others, it wants to build on Sarasota’s partnerships with arts organizations, create supportive learning environments and “establish a deeper connection with developers and builders.” The plan also wants to build on “Sarasota’s cultural and ethnic identity and use art as a vehicle to improve health and community building.”

To fund all that, the plan suggests an increase of the public arts fee for developers from a half percent to one percent. That money has fed the city’s Public Arts Fund, which most recently has been spent mostly on roundabout sculptures.

Even local builders and developers who use the arts in their marketing seemed to be on board. Davis Wallace said developers “responded favorably to doubling the fee.” Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch interpreted the silence of developers at they Monday commission meeting as tacit approval.

Jen Ahearn-Koch: A really good indication, from my point of view, that it’s not that impactful on the developers is that there’s nobody here to speak against this, especially from the development community. I don’t know what you, but I didn’t see one single email from any developer. Hopefully no one else starts getting them now, but I didn’t get anybody speaking against this, and it’s my guess, but it’s probably because [the] development community sees the direct and established link between public art and driving economic growth.

Host: Commissioner Eric Arroyo quizzed the Public Art Manager over the need to raise yet another fee. Davis Wallace responded, they could stay put, but with consequences.

Eric Arroyo: Is this something that you think we can do if we kept the fee where it is? And if not, why, if that’s not the case?

MDW: As everyone has been saying, you know, in the arts community, $150,000 doesn’t go very far anymore. Just like the cost of construction has increased, the cost of our roundabout construction has increased, the cost of things. $150,000 for a piece of art is not realistic. And it’s not necessarily sustainable to bringing in high quality art, whether it’s from our local artists or the international and national artists that we want to attract. So I do believe that it can be done. It just will not be, it will be at a slower pace. And we will not be bringing large pieces in as quickly because we’ll be restricted on that budget.

Host: Saying that many Florida cities are already doing so, Ahearn-Koch advanced the idea for the city to go beyond developer fees and allocate part of its capital improvement fund to public art. In the end, Arroyo expressed his support for the 2030 plan and voted for it.

This was Johannes Werner for WSLR News.


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