By Graham Colton
An Echelman sculpture is coming to St. Petersburg.
Thursday evening at St. Petersburg City Hall, St. Petersburg City Council voted to approve a $1.5 million- artist agreement between the city of St. Petersburg and Janet Echelman, Inc. World-renowned artist Janet Echelman will have her sculpture installed at the new St. Pete Pier, rather than the former Spa Beach location.
City Council approved the agreement by a 7-1 vote. Council member Ed Montanari was the only Council member who did not approve. With this decision, St. Petersburg joins the ranks of Boston, Seattle and Vancouver as another world-class city of the arts to have a sculpture from the Massachusetts-based public artist known for her floating, aerial net sculptures.
Thursday’s vote marked the conclusion of a lengthy, hotly-contested debate on the sculpture. City Council had rejected the sculpture’s Spa Beach location on July 12, then later considered amending the definition of “passive park” so that Spa Beach Park could accommodate the sculpture. The location was ultimately moved to the $76-million Pier District, scheduled to debut just over a year from now.
City staff called on Dan Savercool, president of the St. Petersburg Audobon Society, to quell concerns that some citizens had about the sculpture interfering with or harming birds.
“We need to give birds more credit for their navigational capacities,” Savercool said. “It’s the illumination of the sculpture that is important as it relates to avian mortality.”
Savercool then offered ways to prevent avian deaths by reducing sculpture lighting, and addressed the concerns of Council member Steve Kornell, who worried about ospreys building nests in the sculpture.
“The sculpture doesn’t fit [ospreys’] nesting behavior,” Savercool said.
Kathryn Howd, a member of the city’s Public Arts Commission, sang the sculpture’s praises, saying, “All can come to be mesmerized by the play of light, shadows and colors in the sculpture.”
Other citizens praised City Council for what, in their opinion, was a transparent and publicly accountable process.
“Gina Driscoll, you are a rockstar,” said Kyle Parks, principal of B2 Communications, thanking her for securing the sculpture’s new location. Council member Driscoll worked with city architect Raul Quintana, Phil Graham Jr., president of the Waterfront Parks Foundation and others to secure the location at the St. Pete Pier.
Not all citizens supported the sculpture, even in its new location.
“Art and nature and history make a perfect blend,” said Linda Dobbs. The sculpture, however, would resemble a “forest of steel stanchions, not an artful blend of nature and history,” she said.
Velva Lee Heraty, administrator of the Save Spa Beach Park Facebook group, quoted an email from Savercool in which Savercool said that the sculpture would be dangerous to birds. When pressed by City Council, Savercool said the email was in reference to the former Spa Beach location, not to the new location at the St. Pete Pier.
Council member Montanari, the lone Council member to not approve the contract, said, “It does look like the eastern edge of [the sculpture] is going to be in Spa Beach Park.” He continued, “I don’t like the location, and I also am concerned about the expenditure of public funds for this.”