The “flowers” are here to stay: After months of tense debate, community meetings and a petition, the two public art sculptures in Coral Gables will remain in place.
The resolution sponsored by Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick to have a public vote on the item be placed on the April ballot failed after no commissioner backed her motion at Tuesday’s meeting.
Slesnick’s item came after a group failed to gain the signatures needed for a petition on moving the two Alice Aycock sculptures at the traffic circles on Segovia Street at Biltmore Way and Coral Way.
The petitioners gathered more than 1,000 signatures, but needed 20 percent of the city's registered voters, or more than 6,000, to have a referendum included in the April 11 election.
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The failed vote on Tuesday came after members of the city’s cultural development board spoke in favor of keeping the sculptures in place.
“Delaying this process further is not going to help the city,” said board member Geannina Burgos. “We encourage citizen involvement in future processes.”
Opponents also spoke again and repeated concerns that they felt the artworks didn’t fit the city’s Mediterranean style and weren’t appropriate in their current locations, despite Aycock’s decades of experience in the field and her international acclaim.
The group against the sculptures — two flower-like metal and aluminum sculptures inspired by the passionflower — have said that they are a distraction at the two busy intersections near City Hall and downtown Coral Gables. Aycock has consistently said — most recently in a talk at the Coral Gables Museum during Art Basel — that the pieces were never meant to be offensive but were intended to create a conversation.
“That's why I make art. I make art to put something out there that wasn't there before as a kind of gift,” Aycock said at the time.
The debate on the pieces began not long after they were installed last summer. Residents sent hundreds of emails to city leaders criticizing the sculptures and questioning the selection process.
Many also criticized what they felt was a lack of public input or notice about the pieces. Slesnick has consistently raised that point during the discussions.
“I didn’t know about it until after it was approved, it was not publicly vetted,” Slesnick said.
City staff and other commissioners have repeatedly noted that dozens of public meetings were held when the call for art went out and when it was approved by various city boards, including the historic preservation board, before it was approved by the commission in 2014.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s supposed to be controversial,” Mayor Jim Cason said.
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.