Residents seeking to remove two pieces of public art from Coral Gables now have formal approval to see how many people share their view.
The City Commission approved the language for a petition to have Alice Aycock’s passiflora sculptures, at the traffic circles on Segovia Street at Biltmore Way and Coral Way, removed from their current locations. The group would have to get signatures from 20 percent of the city’s registered voters — a little more than 6,000 signatures — within the next month.
If the group is successful, the commission can approve a proposed ordinance to act on their contract with Aycock and move or remove the sculptures. The commission could also approve a referendum to place the question on the city’s April general election ballot.
My view is, this is the death of art in public places in Coral Gables.
Mayor Jim Cason
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The vote at Tuesday’s meeting came after an extended discussion on the transparency of the process for approving the sculptures and concerns from commissioners that the negative response from some residents could do long-term damage to the city’s reputation.
“My view is, this is the death of art in public places in Coral Gables,” Mayor Jim Cason said. “What artist would risk, in the future, going through all the trouble of participating like she did and then to have the citizens say, ‘well we don’t like it.’ ”
Frank Rodriguez, an attorney for the petitioners, said he and the petitioners weren’t seeking to be critical of the art but just wanted an opportunity to be heard and to see if their opinion is shared by a larger group.
“If we’re right, there’s going to be a tremendous level of dissatisfaction. Maybe we’re wrong, maybe we’re living in a cocoon and there’s a whole lot of people out there that like it that I haven’t spoken to,” Rodriguez said.
The backlash against the artworks, two flower-like metal and aluminum sculptures inspired by the passionflower, began in earnest this summer after they were installed. Residents began circulating an unofficial petition and sending hundreds of emails to city leaders expressing shock or displeasure with the sculptures.
Critics of the Alice Aycock sculptures have a month to gather signatures from a little more than 6,000 of Coral Gables’ registered voters.
Many of the critics said they had issues with the look of the sculptures and said they didn’t fit the city’s Mediterranean style. Many also criticized what they felt was a lack of public input or notice about the pieces.
City staff has repeatedly noted that dozens of public meetings were held when the call for art first went out and as it was approved by various city boards, including the historic preservation board, before it was approved by the City Commission in 2014.
The sculptures cost $1 million and are part of the city’s Neighborhood Renaissance program, a $27 million bond program to fund various projects in the city. The project also received $40,000 in grant funding from the National Endowment of the Arts and $35,000 of in-kind horticultural services from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
“The process was vetted from the moment of conception to the moment of delivery,” Commissioner Vince Lago said.
Staff members also said that Aycock’s international acclaim has helped them secure a VIP event during this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach. Aycock has been a speaker and had work featured during the art fair and has art featured in Broward County as well as the San Francisco Public Library, Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington and John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.
“It’s only because of the Alice Aycock sculptures that we were able to obtain that,” Dona Spain, the city’s director of historical resources and cultural arts, said.
If the City Commission acts to move the sculptures, the city’s contract still requires the city to wait six months before moving it unless Aycock agrees otherwise. Spain said that Aycock likely wouldn’t be willing to move the sculptures even if the petition is successful.
Commissioners would have to approve language for a ballot item if the petition gains the required signatures.