Cape Spirit future in Lewes unknown

More questions than answers remain after May meeting
June 3, 2022

The debate surrounding a permanent piece of public art continues in Lewes, as the public art committee and Art in Bloom attempt to determine next steps. 

Following a heated April meeting, the public art committee reconvened May 25 to analyze the contentious discussion surrounding an Art in Bloom application for Cape Spirit, a piece of public art by artist Rick Rothrock proposed for Canalfront Park

There was frustration from committee members about how things played out, feeling that a lack of communication was to blame for the tense meeting. Chair Cliff Diver praised the committee for responding well to the pressure. He said he was told by members of the government that they are making the city proud by doing what they are supposed to be doing. Committee member Barry Dunkin clarified that it was not a public hearing, despite what some people thought. 

“The fact that we allowed someone to do a presentation was one thing, but it was not a public hearing where we were soliciting comments from the audience – that’s not what our committee meeting was for. [Whether we] should have chosen to do a public hearing, after or before, that’s another issue,” Dunkin said.

Parks and Marina Administrator Janet Reeves agreed, saying the committee’s monthly meeting is a business meeting. Dunkin added that the agenda is determined by the committee and is not set by outside individuals, believing the mayor and city council appoints members to their respective positions for such purposes.

Committee member Heidi Lowe agreed with Dunkin, saying she felt the meeting was problematic because members did not get a chance to do what they needed to do in reviewing the application. Committee member Nancy Leeman said she believes that if the public had been told from the beginning it was not a public hearing, then the process could have followed protocol.

Leeman also noted that perhaps Art in Bloom thought it was pitching the sculpture itself, which no one disapproved, but the issue was the installation and maintenance of the permanent sculpture in Canalfront Park, which was the only proposed location submitted with the application.

“A lot of it came from a lack of understanding about what we came here to do. It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t about aesthetics. It was about the safety of the location itself,” Leeman said.

Tony Boyd-Heron, who is the Art in Bloom representative on the committee, said the committee should be more open to dialogue with an applicant during a presentation.

“If we invite somebody to present an idea to this committee, and the committee discusses it and raises certain questions while the presenter is still in the room, is it only fair that the presenter gets the opportunity to answer them?” Boyd-Heron asked.

Diver pointed out that discussions about Cape Spirit had begun at the Feb. 23 meeting, and there had been conversations with Art in Bloom about what was required on the application. 

Prior to the April 27 meeting, there was an effort to inform Art in Bloom about what the committee would need before it could approve a permanent structure of Cape Spirit’s size in the location the group was seeking. 

Advised by Reeves to submit the application early, Art in Bloom did just that, but  sought conditional approval. Diver said Art in Bloom was told in writing April 13 that the committee cannot do conditional approval. Also in that response were several additional questions about the application. Members of Art in Bloom questioned whether those questions were legally part of the application process or personal requests made by Diver that fell outside his purview. 

As it stands, the issue is studies required to determine the long-term safety and feasibility of the permanent structure at Art in Bloom’s desired location. 

The group had previously requested approval of Cape Spirit before agreeing to fund the studies, but Boyd-Heron said that has changed. In the interest of gaining approval, Art in Bloom is open to selecting a new location within Canalfront Park. 

That aligns with a request from the Friends of Canalfront Park, which supports Cape Spirit but not the originally proposed location. 

Art in Bloom is also willing to pay for the studies required as long as the organization can place the structure in its desired location, wherever that may be. 

When asked if Art in Bloom would be able to place the sculpture it is fully funding in a location of members’ choice, Diver said he is not sure at this time. 

Boyd-Heron believes Art in Bloom should have a say since the organization is funding both the studies and the sculpture. 

He worries funding may not be guaranteed if an undesirable location is chosen. 

Diver wants to reset the clock and start a new dialogue about Cape Spirit by having Art in Bloom revise its application and discuss other locations.

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