Master Plan, Master Artist

An Evening at Selby Gardens: Of Money and Mapplethorpe

A Chairman's Circle Dinner was the occasion for announcing good financial news, and learning more about photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

By Kay Kipling January 25, 2022

An aerial rendering of downtown's Selby Gardens, which has just announced a $31 million bond sale to help finance its Master Plan.

A Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ Chairman’ Circle Dinner Monday night served several purposes. One, to thank the donors present for their support; two, to announce the execution of a $31 million bond sale to help finance the garden’s Master Plan for its downtown Sarasota campus; and three, to learn more about an upcoming exhibition of the work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, courtesy the late artist’s brother Edward and director emeritus of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, James S. Snyder.

Actually, the exact amount of the bond sale, announced by president and CEO Jennifer Rominiecki, is $31,165,000. The sale provides the gardens with the working capital needed for construction as philanthropic pledges from its capital campaign flow in.

According to a press release from the gardens, “High demand from bond investors reflected the institution’s strong finances,” with the bond issue also achieving the ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) rating, which demonstrates the Master Plan’s sustainability and social-impact aspects. When the first phase of the plan is completed, in August 2023, Selby’s 15-acre campus will house its plant research collection and library in new hurricane-rated facilities, welcome guests with an expanded entrance area and more parking, and be powered by a new stormwater purification and solar-energy plant making the campus “the first-ever net-positive energy botanical garden complex in the world.”

Rominiecki acknowledged that there have been some inevitable cost escalations for the project, given the current national and global environment. She added that the total cost for Phase One construction has been finalized at $51.6 million, of which approximately 90 percent has been raised. A Capping Challenge will catalyze the remaining philanthropy needed for Phase One and has already grown to more than $5 million.

Beyond the welcome financial news, the evening also brought to the fore the upcoming exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith: Flowers, Poetry and Light, which will open Feb. 13 at the gardens. It’s the sixth in a series of shows highlighting works related to botany and nature by such artists as Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, Andy Warhol and others.

A horticultural vignette of the upcoming Selby Gardens show featuring works of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith.

Mapplethorpe’s younger brother, Edward, was in attendance to share some memories and insights into Robert’s work with Snyder, who has been involved with presenting the previous Selby exhibitions as well. Thirteen years younger than Robert in a large family, Edward admitted that he didn’t really know his brother growing up, as Robert had already left home to attend the Pratt Institute when Edward was still very young.

However, as he grew up and developed his own interests in art and photography, Edward worked with his “charismatic” brother, whose own interests, he said, were originally more about art than photo techniques, with photography “a quick means to an end.” Meanwhile, Edward was the master of the darkroom. There was some sibling rivalry as both brothers developed their careers, he said, with Robert suggesting at one point that one photographer named Mapplethorpe was enough—leading Edward to work for a time under the pseudonym of Edward Massy.

Edward Mapplethorpe speaking of his brother Robert's work Monday evening at Selby Gardens.

Image: Cliff Roles

But, Edward added, he found both his brother and his longtime friend and collaborator, musician and writer Patti Smith (who will perform at a sold-out event Feb. 15 at Selby Gardens in connection with the exhibit), to be “creatures of a different, magical world” when they visited the Mapplethorpe family, as early as 1967. He recalled a visit when Robert brought home a Polaroid camera to share photos with the family, and spoke of how Robert and Patti both had unique vision and were “forces to be reckoned with.”

The older Mapplethorpe died in 1989, of complications from AIDS. Smith’s 2010 memoir Just Kids focused on their longtime creative and personal relationship, winning the National Book Award for Nonfiction.

For more information about Selby Gardens’ Master Plan, Capping Challenge or the upcoming exhibition, visit


Show Comments