Human Link, by Jon Hair, a commission from High Point University in North Carolina. Hair is one of the semifinalists under consideration for a Sarasota public art piece.

Each year, the large-scale, juried art exhibition Embracing our Differences fills Bayfront Park with works by students and artists from around the world related to the diversity of the human family. Now a group in Sarasota is working toward commissioning and placing a permanent piece of public art celebrating diversity in a space near EOD’s along the park’s waterfront site.

It would be an addition to the city’s public art collection, and one close to former city commissioner Ken Shelin’s heart. Shelin, who  also has been very active with Equality Florida, is on the committee seeking to place the new addition in a visible place in the park, “where it will draw not only citizens but anyone who happens to be on the bayfront,” he says.

About two or three years ago, Shelin says he got to thinking about public art in Sarasota and how it relates to equality, especially for those identifying as LGBTQ. While he says Sarasota “still has a ways to go” when it comes to full commitment to diversity, he also says no place else in the state equals the city’s commitment, and he wanted to “find a piece of high-quality art” to honor that. City manager Tom Barwin was soon on board providing help from city staff, Shelin says. Fellow committee members include Judge Charles Williams and lawyer Charlie Ann Syprett, who spearheaded the founding of the Sarasota Bar Association’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee a few years ago; Florida Studio Theatre’s Kate Alexander; and arts education activist Nancy Roucher, among others.

Martin Dawe's bronze of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at the Georgia State Capitol. Dawe is also a semifinalist for the Sarasota commission.

The committee teamed with CODAworx, a national resource for finding artists, creative teams and subcontractors for the creation of commissioned artworks, to announce and share news of the project, and there are now 13 semifinalists—sculptors and artists from here in Florida and around the world—under consideration.

Open Book Gateway by Malcolm Robertson, a piece commissioned by Sarasota County for Fruitville Library in 2003. Robertson is also being considered for the future Bayfront Park work.

Naturally, all of this costs money, and Shelin says the committee is gathering advice from experts on fund raising. “We’ll be going to local foundations and corporations first, and then reaching out to individuals, too,” he says. They’re hoping to raise $500,000 for the artwork and its maintenance over a period of several years; due to its location, the piece must be able to withstand salt water and hurricanes.

A piece by South Africa-based artist Marco Cianfanelli, a semifinalist here.

Although there is as of now no hard-and-fast deadline to reach that goal, Shelin says he’d like to see the money raised in the next year, and have the piece installed in two years, as a gift to the city. “It’s about going beyond tolerance and acceptance,” he says. “It’s actually engaging with and valuing the differences between people, and getting everyone involved.” When that happens, he says, “The community is richer for it.”

To learn more about the public art diversity project, email Shelin at kshelin@aol.com.

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