Emotions ran high at the April 27 meeting of the Lewes Public Art Committee, as members of Art in Bloom and the committee clashed over a 20-foot-tall permanent sculpture proposed for Canalfront Park.
Cape Spirit would be made of marine-grade stainless steel and weigh about 2,200 pounds. Various concerns led to denial of the project, putting its future in jeopardy.
Art in Bloom estimates Cape Spirit would cost about $206,000, with funding via existing cash, individual donors and fundraising. Art in Bloom had also anticipated a $23,000 grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, but Co-chair Ed Zygmonski said they had to secure approval by May 1.
Rick Rothrock, the artist chosen for the piece, has had his work featured in New Castle and Kent counties, and this would be his first work in Sussex.
With letters of support from the Lewes Chamber of Commerce, Overfalls Foundation, Southern Delaware Tourism, Lewes in Bloom and Friends of Canalfront Park, Zygmonski spoke passionately about the pros of placing Cape Spirit in the park.
An email sent by Peter Issel, chair of Friends of Canalfront Park, dated Jan. 13, voiced unanimous support for Cape Spirit’s concept, design and placement within the park, but raised concerns on the exact location.
The location also seemed concerning to committee Chair Cliff Diver because the proposed site is a brownfield. In its application, Art in Bloom made efforts to detail the positive effects the sculpture would have on visual aesthetics, but there was no mention of the environmental impact the sculpture’s foundation may have.
If the committee approved a structure of such size, Diver said, mayor and city council would trust that the committee had done due diligence in accepting liability. Engineering studies would need to be done, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control would have to take soil samples, and engineer blueprints for the design would have to be submitted, Diver said.
Zygmonski saw things differently, and his presentation and application reflected how he viewed the process. He was not the only one confused, as many in the crowd believed they were attending a public hearing and thought there would be a chance to speak or respond to questions. Zygmonski said he felt the application process was meant to get the ball rolling so fundraising and financing could begin.
Art in Bloom was given 10 minutes for its presentation. Diver offered a two-minute warning at the eight-minute mark, which Zygmonksi rejected.
The presentation of Cape Spirit concluded with comments from Art in Bloom members speaking about the positive role they believe the sculpture would play in Lewes.
When Diver moved on to review of the application, the mood of the room shifted.
By the end of the application discussion, several legitimate questions were raised by the committee, including engineering issues, environmental concerns, safety hazards and insurance liability. More questions remained than answers.
Committee member Denise Emery made a motion to approve the Cape Spirit application, which Tony Boyd-Heron seconded. Committee member Heidi Lowe moved to approve the application with the stipulation that all the engineering, environmental and safety work check out. Diver interjected, saying they could not do that.
There was no secretary at the meeting, and Emery could not recall her specific motion, so Diver asked her to withdraw her motion so they could vote to deny the application in order to begin working with Art in Bloom on the issues raised.
Nancy Leeman, who says she personally knows Rothrock and is not opposed to Cape Spirit, made a motion to deny the application. It passed 4-2, with Boyd-Heron and Emery still voting in favor of the application.
Some members of Art in Bloom, while discouraged, seem willing to keep the Cape Spirit vision alive, while others aren’t so optimistic.
Zygmonski said Art in Bloom is just a small group of volunteers, and if they have to pay for these studies beforehand, which he estimates to be tens of thousands of dollars, then it's not economically feasible. Pointing to the mosaic murals on the Savannah Road drawbridge, Zygmonski said Art in Bloom has a good track record, having worked in good faith with the Department of Transportation.
Fallout from the emotional meeting continued: Warren Golde, founder of Lewes in Bloom and co-founder of Art in Bloom, has formally asked mayor and city council to place an appeal from the “arbitrary and capricious proceedings” on its Monday, May 23 meeting agenda, and to go a step further and conditionally approve the concept with the understanding Art in Bloom will satisfy all engineering, environmental, safety and contractual concerns.
Diver stands by the decision to require a more thorough application, citing the sculpture as the largest venture the public art committee has ever undertaken. He said he would be negligent in his duties if he was not detailed in his vetting process. Diver said a few council members have thanked him for his efforts to ensure the process is as airtight as possible.
The public art committee has said it is willing to work with Art in Bloom to make Cape Spirit a reality. Most members of Art in Bloom seem interested in working with public art committee to ensure the sculpture is made, but Zygmonski does not believe the project can get done with Diver as the chair.