In your May 13 edition of the Gazette, you gave a platform to a malcontent named Thomas Paul Severino, a self-proclaimed author, who proceeded to express his disagreement with the existing public art efforts being made in Wilton Manors in his article “Wilton Manors Needs a True Vision for Public Art in the City.”
I must say that Mr. Severino shows skills in writing fiction, but no skills in public art, and it is incumbent upon me to correct the record. Rather than express his support for the new public art efforts, he chose to cast aspersions, making light of a few sculptures such as “Slices of Heaven” and “Sweet Hearts” placed on Wilton Drive as well others such as the painting of the Rainbow Bridge.
Those like Mr. Severino have posed one of the biggest obstacles to progress here in Wilton Manors, by setting lofty goals that are too high and unattainable with no practical, realistic solutions.
For decades, there has been “talk” of public art in Wilton Manors, but no action to back it up. The City of Wilton Manors itself had not made any concerted efforts towards placing public art around the City. Rather, it has been left to private 501(c)(3)’s to promulgate projects within the City.
An example would be the Wilton Art projects such as “Art in the Air” and “Art Sign.” Other examples would be the murals done by Claudia Castillo and the folks at Island City Art Advisory. To my amazement, as with many, for a City with such an abundance of creative residents, the dearth of public art is shocking and is something that needed to be corrected.
Many of our neighboring cities have made so much more progress in this area.
Not content to wait any longer for the City to take steps, I proceeded in late 2019 to generate support for a Sculpture Walk program to deliver art to the Drive and other parts of the City to foster commerce in our City by attracting more visitors and resident involvement in the business district.
I presented a plan to the City in January of 2020, but no action was taken by the Commission. What Mr. Severino does not realize, mainly because he failed to properly research this topic, is that as a result of the lack of City involvement, this has been a private, volunteer effort of Sculpture Walk Wilton Manors, a project of Art Walk Wilton Manors, Inc.
As a member of the Wilton Manors Community Affairs Advisory Board, I raised the concept of Sculpture Walk to that Board, and the Board funded the project with an initial $1,000 contribution which helped to launch the program sponsored by Art Walk Wilton Manors. By further raising funds through citizen donations and working with business owners who gave consent to displaying a sculpture on their property, we were able to bypass the City’s complacency with the status quo and move quickly to install eight sculptures, despite a pandemic, in location along Wilton Drive.
The first two sculptures, “Talking Tubes” and “Slices of Heaven,” installed in March of 2020, served as our proof of concept, and following their installation, we received an overwhelming amount of support and praise. This project also fits perfectly within the goals of the Wilton Manors Business Association which has held workshops on how to generate more consumer traffic to support our businesses.
What Mr. Severino also fails to comprehend is the model we are using to achieve this success. Based upon a template used in several cities, a non-profit undertakes a “lease, loan or donate” plan for acquiring the art. Thus, rather than having to raise a massive amount of funds for any one piece (such as the “Charging Bull” which Mr. Severino so adores at the New York Stock Exchange), which could cost tens of thousands of dollars, we are able to lease sculptures for a nominal amount for one-year terms. Such a plan makes a Sculpture Walk much more affordable and much easier by which to raised funds for multiple pieces. As such, with a budget of only $10,000 which could hardly purchase one such sculpture, we were able to rent four sculptures and were also able to attract donations of four other sculptures. There are many cities that have a City-sponsored public art program, which is generally funded through impact fees on developers of new construction in their cities. As we know, Wilton Manors is a small city with a limited budget, and there has been no new construction by which to extract impact fees.
So, while Mr. Severino talks about his lofty goals from a perch, we are down in the trenches getting it done. You can understand my disgust when someone then takes a platform to minimize the Sculpture Walk efforts and to criticize the choice of art.
Under this model, the choices are not as expansive as we would like, since we need to find artists who create public art sculptures, are willing to lease their art for one-year terms and assume liability for the art.
While we have endeavored to find local artists, this has been a challenge and we are always welcoming of these artists. If Mr. Severino is aware of any, we would love to get that information. I doubt he does. We have been combing the country looking for artists interested in our model and so far, have been successful in finding several who have given us wonderful sculptures that the residents of Wilton Manors have loved and embraced.
As to the meaning behind each piece or the suitability of the piece for Wilton Manors, that is a very subjective and individual matter.
I am sorry Mr. Severino does not understand the art. As to “Sweet Hearts,” Mr. Severino complains that it does not embody “true diversity” but I would differ even on that ancillary point, that piece embraces Unity, Love is Love, Hugs and Kisses which I would argue are very much values that reflect our community.
People such as Mr. Severino are a distraction, but Sculpture Walk will continue to make strides in bringing sculptural art to the Drive and in the next phase, to other parts of the City.
While we have not been able to engage the City in our program, just recently we were successful in having the City of Wilton Manors enter into an agreement with Art Walk Wilton Manors to permit sculptures to be placed on City-owned properties such as City Hall and the parks. This is a major breakthrough and the next step towards further progress.
Ultimately, I agree that the City of Wilton Manors needs to take on a public art program. Mr. Severino may also not be aware that I submitted a comprehensive Public Art Policy to the City Commission to act upon, that would recognize a public art committee and seek to fund public art of all kinds.
Just recently, and most likely largely as a result of the popularity of the public art projects recently launched, the City Commission, with the support of Commissioner Caputo, is taking steps to engage itself more in this realm.
However, until such time as the City buys into a more comprehensive plan, I am fully content, unlike Mr. Severino, to take smaller steps to further public art in Wilton Manors, and I would appreciate those like Mr. Severino to embrace these efforts rather than minimize or mock the efforts.
If he would like to volunteer his services, rather than just write about it, we would welcome his input. In fact, we would appreciate any input and welcome volunteers and donations to Sculpture Walk Wilton Manors.
– MICHAEL SANSEVERO