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The City of Sarasota was justifiably proud at the accomplishment in creating the Fred “Glossie” Atkins Park as a tribute to the man and the community that he represented. And to their credit, it was a genuine accomplishment in hindsight of the financial undertaking of the project. Missed deadlines and re-schedules, financial shortcomings (though $1.1 million has been spent getting it into operation) and other development issues caused delays and created multiple “renovation” projects.
The crowning achievement of it all was the installation of an art-piece created by the highly talented sculptor Frank Brown. To his credit, Mr. Brown has earned his BFA from Southern Illinois University, holds a MFA from the University of Wisconsin and has taught at Madison Area Technical College, the University of St. Thomas and Macalster College. His works are on permanent display at the Minnesota Institute of Arts, Southern Illinois University, the St. Paul Foundation and the University of Utah’s Museum of Fine Arts. Fred Atkins Park received a work entitled “A Community Within Reach”, which was delivered after a year-long process, going from concept to finished piece during the same timeframe. It’s been described as “a rolling knot of men, women and children determinedly reaching towards the heavens with a common heartfelt goal in mind. To view this is to be profoundly moved.”
Unfortunately, the general public description doesn’t paint such an inspirational image. In a brief survey of the local residents who’ve had the greatest exposure to the sculpture, most point to the figures as being misshapen, deformed and generally struggling against each other. When viewed from a distance, “A Community Within Reach” seems to depict a group of people climbing stairs – symbolic of reaching higher goals. But, it’s upon the closer inspection that this message is lost. The faces seem angry and at odds with one another. One figure actually appears to be screaming!
As another observer noted, there seems to be a “bucket of crabs” mentality in our community – when one seems to be getting out, the others pull him back down – and this statue seems to represent that! In looking from that perspective, it isn’t hard to wonder if they’re helping others up or being pulled back down.
Another bone of contention is the fact that an artist wasn’t selected from Sarasota’s own talent pool. We only house the students from the Ringling School of Art, the Visual Performing Arts at Booker High School as well as teams of aspiring artists at the Sarasota and Riverview campuses. Was there no one in Sarasota that could have done a better job than this? REALLY?
Out of curiosity, I began an online search for Black sculptors in general. The results lead me to wonder exactly what the selection process could have been? The works of either Herbert Ferber were interesting enough and displayed what I believe would have been better received as representative of the message. But the standout sculptor that I found was Mr. Richard Hunt. In terms of artistic design and symbolism, even diversity of materials, Mr. Hunt’s work would’ve been a source of pride that Sarasota, as a whole, would’ve embraced.
Any of the statues shown above would’ve been more appropriate. Of course, after looking at the alternatives, one has to wonder: who authorized Mr. Brown’s submission? Was this the result of one person’s approval or did a board or committee collectively drop the ball? Were Mr. Brown’s intentions made public? And if so, is this what was expected to be installed or have changes been made from the original concept?
In a nutshell, I believe that the City of Sarasota should issue a formal apology to the residents of the Newtown community specifically and to the entire city in general for this monstrosity that we’re being forced to accept as art! Art is something generally considered to have some sort of appeal, something that instills a sense of pride and has emotional value. Mr. Brown is a very gifted and talented sculptor. His body of works speaks to his abilities. This particular piece, however, has missed the mark.
I don’t recall seeing any Facebook pics with this statue in the background and honestly, I don’t ever expect to!