Port St. Lucie is solidly on board with the art in public places movement
BY SUSAN BURGESS
As the sun drops behind the horizon, two eye-catching globe-shaped sculptures gleam with interior lights near the MidFlorida Credit Union on Gatlin Boulevard. They were contributed by the credit union to the city’s Art in Public Places program — a program many residents don’t even know exists.
But the day is coming when they can easily learn a lot about it because the city plans to create something it doesn’t have right now: a list of all public art and its locations. Eventually people may be able to take self-guided art tours by bicycle or car or even in some cases, on foot.
The gleaming globes near the credit union are popular with drivers. “These two sculptures on Gatlin get a lot of compliments,” says Patti Tobin, the city’s long range planning administrator. “They are more noticeable at night with the lighting.”
They were installed where motorists can easily spot them, as required by Port St. Lucie’s growing public arts program. The program aims to help beautify the city while improving residents’ quality of life and attracting visitors to the city, thereby helping businesses succeed.
Nobody will have any trouble spotting the new art on the elevator tower at the Mets stadium in St. Lucie West when it’s finished. Topped by the Mets’ iconic “home run top hat” with a shining red “Big Apple” sitting partially in it, the art pays homage to Shea Stadium, the ball team’s former home in Queens, N.Y., with a tile design taken from the now-demolished stadium. LED lights outline Manhattan’s famous skyline on the big apple. The artists are multi-award winning Frank Anselmo and Josh Rosenman.
The artwork, submitted jointly to the city council on Jan. 27 by the Mets organization and St. Lucie County, will be installed as soon as possible — the stadium is currently undergoing renovation. The Mets and the county estimate the art will cost them around $50,000.
Advocates say there’s good reason for focusing on public art: It makes people like their community more.
It can help create attachment to a community, explains Jared Green in an article written for the American Society of Landscape Architects. Based on a survey of thousands of people conducted by Gallup for the Knight Foundation, Green said people are more likely to feel emotionally attached to a place because of its art, its parks and its green spaces than because of education, safety and the local economy.
The foundation also cited social offerings — opportunities for social interaction and citizen caring; and openness; how welcoming the community is to different people — as major drivers of feelings of attachment.
This year, as the Art in Public Places program is taking off, residents can expect to enjoy three intriguing new sculptures on city-owned land — one for a frequently traveled roundabout, one in front of city hall and a third at the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens.
Relate, Michael Szabo’s graceful bronze and stainless steel sculpture resembling orchid leaves is slated for permanent installation at the Bayshore Boulevard and Selvitz Road roundabout. Lighting will give motorists a dramatic view after dark. The city council agreed to pay $200,000 for the piece from the public art fund.
Influx by Cecilia Lueza, shaped like the curl of an ocean wave, will be placed on a base now being constructed at city hall. Her 12-foot-high sculpture in shades of blue and green, lighted at night, will be on view for two years, after which it will be replaced by another sculpture. The public art fund will pay $10,000 for the two-year use of the sculpture. The site is intended for temporary art installations.
At the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens a sculpture now being fabricated will display a familiar looking tray of Scrabble tiles spelling out IMAG_NE, engaging the viewer who has to fill in the missing letter to read it. The cost is $41,000.
Graceful sculptures, eye-catching art on roadside utility boxes and colorful murals are already in place around Port St. Lucie and there’s more on the way.
Thousands of motorists a day see the corner towers of the new Crosstown Parkway. They feature the Indian River Lagoon in a tile marine scene by famed marine artist Guy Harvey. The graceful metal seagrass sculptures on top were created by American Bronze Foundry, directed by Charles Wambold. The design was created by a visualization artist from the design team RS&H.
The tile work for Guy Harvey’s art, by Porcelains Unlimited, cost $128,827 while the seagrass sculptures cost $198,647. They were paid out of the Crosstown Parkway budget.
Visitors to city hall can see a mural of the Indian River Lagoon reflecting big puffy clouds in its waters. It was painted in 2014 by muralist Shannon Paul Wiley.
Sitting on roadsides, large green utility boxes are transformed from unattractive metal cabinets to pieces of art wrapped in transparent film with paintings or photos of local wildlife, landscapes, and local scenes created by professional artists, photographers, and students from county schools. The project began in 2017 and was so popular that a second phase was undertaken between then and now. To date, 157 boxes have been wrapped and can be seen on the side of U.S. 1, Becker Road, and other main roads. The city has a project tracker available on its website.
City Mayor Gregory Oravec had high praise for the utility wrap program when the city council approved new designs in August, 2018 saying, “In my 22 years of public service this is one of the most popular programs [we have].”
Alessandra Tasca, community programs administrator with the Neighborhood Services Department, recently confirmed that the boxes are appreciated by city residents saying that, “The project is very popular and has provided the residents of Port St. Lucie with public art on a lot of streets and in unexpected places.”
The Art in Public Places ordinance created a fund that developments meeting certain criteria pay into so the city has the money to buy art for city-owned land. Developers can either contribute art placed in a public space such as a roadside or on its premises but visible from public streets, or put money into the city’s public art fund.
The city then uses the fund, which currently totals about $500,000, to pay for art it chooses through a formal selection process that includes recommendations by the Public Art Advisory Board, the Planning and Zoning Board, and approval by the city council.
The two globes on Gatlin commissioned by MidFlorida Credit Union as its contribution to Port St. Lucie’s public art program are good examples of privately commissioned roadside artwork that is noticed and very much liked by the public. For those who have driven by and wondered, the globes, with LED lights inside, have names — Dark Planet and Mantle. Both are by sculptor David Harber.
Home developer Del Webb installed an elegant sculpture by David Harber called Hydra at the entrance to its community in Tradition on the southwest corner of Village Parkway and Open View Drive in Tradition.
Grove Park apartments, at 2033 S.E. Lennard Road, privately purchased a curving bronze sculpture by Charles Strain called Duo after approval by the city council. Abstractly representing two people within its beautiful curving lines, it is easily visible to anyone driving by.
The city approved several works of art proposed by developers in lieu of paying into the public art fund in 2018 and 2019 for placement in visible locations. Among them are submissions from A&G Concrete Pools on Glades Cut-off Road, Townplace Suites by Marriott in Tradition for an 8-foot aluminum sculpture, and Village on the Commons at Rosser Road and Aledo Lane.
Healthcare Center on the east side of Village Parkway at Tradition won approval last September for two bird sculptures by Geoffrey C. Smith — a 7-foot anhinga and a life-size sandhill crane in bronze.
Verano South hopes to have five agave sculptures by Mark Fuller ready by spring. They range from 6 to 12 feet tall and will be set in a carefully landscaped area that includes live agave plants visible from Crosstown Parkway. They will be made of an aluminum and mirror-polished stainless steel exterior with lighting within and underneath. The proposal was praised by Vice Mayor Shannon Martin in November as “the best I’ve ever seen. It says Port St. Lucie to me more than any other piece I’ve ever seen.”
The long-lived agave plant, sometimes called a century plant, is native to hot, dry regions and suitable for landscapes in Port St. Lucie. It may be familiar to some as a sweetener for foods and for the production of tequila and mezcal.
Just recently the public art program was given a boost when the city was awarded a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to create a mural at Minsky Gym depicting the city’s vision as a city for all people. A workshop with selected muralists and residents will help determine what the mural will look like.
NOT NEW BUT MOSTLY UNKNOWN
The Art in Public Places program isn’t new but little has been said about it since the first ordinance creating its framework and establishing the Public Art Advisory Board was adopted by the city council in 2007. That ordinance was refined and replaced twice, with the last replacement taking effect in 2018.
The board works quietly in the background, making selections and recommendations to send to the Planning and Zoning Board which then decides what to recommend to the city council.
The advisory board was suspended in 2015 for lack of quorums at its meetings, but was reinstated in 2017. It began meeting again in October of that year and its work on public art took off with a bang.
It was quickly deluged with hundreds of designs for wrapping the city’s large metal roadside utility boxes with artwork. It spent several months reviewing them, and to date, 157 utility boxes have been wrapped with original artwork and lush photographs transferred onto a special clear film and then placed carefully around each box.
The board dug itself out of that in early 2018 and began working on submissions from developers who wanted to install art instead of paying fees into the public art fund.
Through 2019 the board also ranked submissions from artists who responded to calls for art from the city for placement in front of city hall, botanical gardens, and at the Bayshore/Selvitz roundabout. Eventually, a sculpture representing families could be placed at Westmoreland Park, council members said. One submission, a colorful, realistic representation of ice cream pops, would look great in a park, they said.
A public art master plan is in the works. According to Tobin, the city’s long range planning administrator, a consultant was recently selected. He is Josh Lapp, from Designing Local, based in Ohio. She took him on a tour around the city in the first week of February. There are plans to network with residents at a future date to find out what they want so that a draft of the plan can be created.
There is no timetable for the master plan yet. But as the city grows, residents can look forward to more and more art to enjoy as they drive, walk and cycle around town.