The USF/Oldsmar public art project team: Scott Ward, Skye Heyden, Lakeema Matthew, Cierra Flowers, Dr. Wallace Wilson, Linda Foley Norris, Dr. Cesar Cornejo, Sofia Martinez, Tyler Dobson and Anthony Santacroce. Credit: Linda Foley Norris.
For the past several years, Oldsmar officials have been trying to develop public art projects to display around the city.
After a number of stops and starts, last spring it looked like the first Art in Public Places project was finally about to come together, courtesy of a unique partnership between the City of Oldsmar and art students from the University of South Florida.
But when City Council member Linda Norris informed the rest of the council on October 20 that the arrangement with the student who won the contest fell through, it looked as if Oldsmar’s latest attempt to bring art and culture to the community was destined to join the others on the scrap heap.
“Cierra, the girl that we chose to do the art project, has dropped the ball,” Norris, who’s been a fierce advocate for public art in Oldsmar throughout her five-plus years on the council, said. “So we just ended it, and I wished her luck.”
The new public art project would see murals painted on the facades of the bandshell at Oldsmar’s R.E. Olds Park.
Norris proposed having another student from the class, Lakeema Matthew, take over the project, changing the plans that called for sculptures to be placed at R.E. Olds Park into painting a mural on the battleship gray walls of the park’s bandshell.
“Lakeema has experience working with cities…and she’s not in school, so there won’t be a conflict,” she said, noting Matthew has done murals for the City of Tampa and in Ybor City.
That led to a discussion among Norris’ fellow legislators, with Vice-Mayor Gabby McGee questioning whether the city should stick with the USF connection after what happened with the first student, and Mayor Doug Bevis expressing disdain for the whole idea of murals.
“I’m up in the air on murals,” Bevis said. “You typically see murals are in areas that need a little life brought to them.”
The council ultimately decided to table the discussion until its subsequent meeting, and when the agenda item came up on November 3, the subject sparked more debate.
“I think we need to start thinking about having someone’s who’s dedicated, like a cultural arts director,” McGee said at the start of the discussion, adding that she wanted to put the latest project on hold until they had a 3-5 year plan in place.
“We need a plan and we need a person with expertise.”
Council member Linda Norris debates her point while Vice-Mayor gabby McGee listens on Nov. 3, 2015.
“I think that’s a great idea, for future projects,” Norris replied. “It has been six years, it has been four terms on the council, it has been the arts and leisure board trying and then us doing this with USF.”
“I would like to see this move forward so we can have some art,” she added, becoming emotional at the prospect of the project slipping away. “I don’t think we should kick this can down the road again.”
Then, as the issue appeared to be going nowhere, a couple of votes of support for Norris’ idea turned the tide of the discussion.
Oldsmar City Council member Eric Seidel.
“I tend to agree with Linda, let’s finish what we started on this,” Council member Eric Seidel said.
“I totally agree that we need to get something done for the centennial,” Council member Dan Saracki added.
“I’m not sure if I want a mural on that wall, but I totally agree with Linda and Eric that we need to get something done.”
Eventually, the council agreed to let Matthew come up with some concept drawings for the mural and present them to the council after the first of the year.
Afterwards, Norris expressed relief that the city’s latest public art project was back on track.
“I’m so excited because I didn’t want this put off any longer, because we are one of the only communities in the area with no public art, ” Norris told Oldsmar Connect.
“And I’m really glad they decided to keep the project with USF,” she added. “We all loved Lakeema’s work, but we didn’t want to build a wall for her mural. Now we found one!”
Norris said she believes the completion of the first project, hopefully in time for the centennial celebration in March, will start an avalanche of similar projects in the city.
“I really think this will help get the ball rolling as far as getting more public art in Oldsmar.”