Making a splash: Tail of the Whale sculpture to be installed at 8th Ave. S. beachend

By Aisling Swift, Naples Daily News, Fla.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

April 24--Tail of the Whale, a contemporary bronze sculpture, has a new home -- and Naples officials hope the city's first private art donation under its public arts program will pave the way for more.

The Naples Public Arts Committee voted 3-1 Tuesday to place the kinetic sculpture by San Francisco artist Robbie Robins at the beach end of Eighth Avenue South, a popular spot for weddings.

"I'm looking at this piece as a really striking marketing piece for the Public Arts Program," Committee Chairman Jack O'Brien said. "This piece, I think everyone is going to appreciate, everyone is going to embrace."

Committee member Michael Williams agreed, and said it could lead to more donations.

"From the experience I've had in other places, once you have the first one up, they'll be lining up to show you their sculptures," Williams said of artists and donors. "This is an art-friendly town where people will appreciate it."

The city has more than $100,000 in its Public Arts Fund, Community Development Director Robin Singer said, adding that artists could be paid a $1,000 honorarium for a donation.

"It's going to be a call-out for artists," Singer said of plans to publicize a donation program that would require artists or donors to deliver art, install it and insure it.

Most public art around Naples comes from an ordinance requiring art with a nonresidential construction project. New construction must feature outside art or a developer must make a donation to the city's public art fund equal to $1 per-square-foot of the project.

Last month, council approved spending $8,279.50 from the fund to have a mural by Naples artist Phil Fisher and local schoolchildren imprinted onto tiles that will be installed at River Park Aquatic Center.

Eugene Burke, a former committee member and retired local doctor, donated Tail of the Whale because he's moving to a condo, wasn't allowed to place it outside and didn't want to keep it inside his new home.

"It's really an outdoor sculpture," Burke said in a telephone interview. "It should be outside."

Under the city's public arts ordinance, council had to qualify the artist's credentials and approve the art. Robins was unanimously approved due to his education, experience, five art show awards -- and because his art has been commissioned by five cities, including Miami, where it sits outside Aventura Hospital and Medical Center as part of the city's Arts in Public Places program.

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Last month, council agreed to accept the sculpture and pay up to $1,000 for a pedestal, although three cited concern over the sculpture's sharp points, suggesting it be placed away from children or on the water.

"You could impale yourself," Councilman Doug Finlay said.

Until last month, when city employees put it in storage pending the PAC vote, the whale was at Burke's Rum Row home, atop a pedestal on an embedded pin. He'd purchased it at a Fifth Avenue South Art Fair in 2002 after seeing a small version and asking Robins, who won an Award of Distinction at the fair, if he could make a large one.

Burke assuaged city officials' concerns that the 5-foot-long, 2-foot high sculpture would move in the wind -- unless there was a strong hurricane.

"If it's spinning, you'd better get out of town," he joked.

This week, the Public Arts Committee, with three members absent, debated four locations, rejecting the Hedges Family Visitors Center because there weren't enough visitors and cars would race by, not noticing it. Members chose the beach location over Lowdermilk Park and Orchid Linear Park, which Chairman Jack O'Brien preferred, making him the sole nay vote.

Even bird poop was considered -- a problem if birds perched on it in a Lowdermilk Park lake to watch for fish. It was Williams who steered colleagues toward the beach spot, noting, "I think it should be the beginning of a small, little sculpture garden."


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