Wednesday, February 13, 2013

SRQ Tic Tac Toe


Sarasota (SRQ) is a community of many voices that are not equally heard. Here the modern folks meet today’s most reactionary minority, struggling to push the slightest progressive initiatives forward. This city is living in a pivotal moment in its history, trying to shift secular paradigms to adapt to nowadays fast changing society.

In our research for this project, we came across several people who have helped us understand the situation that perpetuates divisions and miscommunication amongst citizens of Sarasota. These are some of the major ones:

Leon Middleton, the famous artist
Leon Middleton is homeless artist who has been in Sarasota for the past 40 years. He experienced many struggles finding his means to produce his work and have a dignified way of living. However, he has a strong sense of integrity and a hopeful vision for this city.

Carolyn Mason is Sarasota’s County Commissioner, grew up in New Town and has worked in the Government for a really long time. She works hard for many efforts to bring Sarasota together,

Susan Atwell has been the city’s mayor for two cycles. As a former art therapist, Mayor Atwell believes Art has great potential for healing. She is a great supporter of public art, not only to create a sense of place in the city, but to make it more attractive to tourists and visitors.

Jen Nugent in her studio
David Berry is the Director of Education of the Ringling Museum. Mr. Berry is on a mission to attract a younger population to this historic space, as an opportunity to open dialogue about the city’s past that seems to be long forgotten.

Jen Nugent is an insightful fine artist, alumna of Ringling College of Art and Design. She lived all her life in Florida, and has taken a very active role in the Sarasota community. She is involved in the contemporary art group called SaRtQ, and a special program she initiated in collaboration with Ringling Museum, the Ringling Underground Series.

SRQ City's logo
By looking into public art, this documentary talks about the way imported icons manipulate a community’s perception of itself. We start by looking at the most obvious example of the city’s iconography, it’s logo with the silhouette of a naked man, it is the bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David that is sitting at the loggia of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

Reflecting upon it, we realize how the issue of imported art in this city has deep roots. In late 1920’s, John Ringling brought not only David, but hundreds of roman-greek replicas from Italy to embellish the St. Armand Circle’s streets and his private collection that later became part of the state museum we have today. Somehow, this movement informed a lot of what would come to town in the future.

Unconditional Surrender being assembled
Unconditional Surrender was brought to town by an organization called Season of Sculpture. Originally, it was here for a temporary exhibition of contemporary art, but then it was purchased and donated to the city. That way, it brought a lively discussions about public art. Some claim it was not worth of its purchase or its placement, being a copy and unoriginal piece of art. Others claim that it transcended a mere piece of art, and it worked as a monument for the population of second world war veterans in town, who had a very emotional response and attachment to this piece.

Complexus is another piece brought by Season of Sculpture, this time, with a specific intent. Try to please the “Artsy” community in town. To our understanding, that’s only the talk amongst the ones who were involved in the purchase of the piece. It’s a perfect example of when art becomes a matter of status quo and ostentation.


Many initiatives have been brought to the city as a way to diversify the art’s scene, diverging from the classical bourgeois attractions and offering something that caters the youth and minorities. We talk to some of the initiators and current coordinators of these activities, and they face many difficulties trying to push the boundaries to make them successful.

In 2010, the Chalk Festival brought the urban artist MTO, who created what was known as the Fast Life mural. The mural brought up several debates amongst people from all over the city and ended up having to be painted over because people could not deal with it otherwise. This was an episode that proved that Sarasota is not ready to deal with its innate complexity through the honest expression of an artist.

The overarching conflict is that of art versus money. Younger artists as well as minority groups struggle to have a share in the city’s decision making process regarding public art due to the lack of money. Art has been objectified to the extent of being viewed only in monetary/marketing terms and becomes a rather meaningless commodity, Art has become business, in our documentary we are exploring the intricate interrelationship and conflict between the two, using multiple case studies, that include public art and recent developments.

There is a disconnection from the past, that causes these symbols to quickly lose their meaning to people, slowly fading into cultural affirmations that have little or no relevance to the city’s identity, excluding a large portion of the community. We want this to be the story of a community that unites voices, celebrating local as a way of building meaning and history together.


The first thing that has to be analyzed to make change a possibility is the willingness of people to take the change upon themselves to happen. One thing is for certain: There is a lack of dialogue between these different groups. Which leads to a strong dissonance of voices in the process of shaping the city’s identity. This project intends to open up the opportunity for conversation, aiming to contribute to the discussion with the juxtaposition of the characters depicted here.

The City needs to refocus its strategy around money making opportunities and focus on its people instead, leaving the trivial question of aesthetics to the side and listening to the needs of the people who are here to have a decent living, and not simply appearing to do so. Another important paradigm shift would be that of focusing on the needs of individual artists, so that younger artists and locals have an incentive to stay and contribute to Sarasota’s future development as a true artistic integrated community.