City to commission artist for two monuments

Armed with a $1 million budget, the city of Coral Gables is in search of an artist to create two new monuments – the first built in the city in more than 70 years.

The monuments are part of the $27 million Neighborhood Renaissance Program that was approved by the Coral Gables City Commission in July 2011. The two structures will help connect the city’s historical past with its aesthetically pleasing present.

“Coral Gables has long valued natural beauty, its history, community and family,” said Cynthia Birdsill, the economic sustainability director of the city of Coral Gables.

These will be the first monuments built since the death of George Merrick in 1942. Merrick, the founder of Coral Gables, predicted as far back as 1925 that the city would serve as a gateway to Latin America. The theme of “gateways” is prevalent throughout the city’s entrance arches, plinths and fountains.

The city is searching for an artist who will design and build two monuments on Segovia Street at the intersections of Biltmore and Coral ways. These locations were chosen because they serve as gateways to the center of the city. The monuments would be seen by more than 22,000 visitors daily, according to Birdsill.

“The Segovia circles are ideal locations for large-scale art that mark these entry points, which can relate to each other as well as historic civic art surrounding the circles,” Birdsill said.

The budget for this project is expected to be $1,075,000, which will include all costs such as materials, fabrication, transportation, insurance, installation and engineering, according to Birdsill. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden has agreed to provide approximately $35,000 in in-kind services to the project, and the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded the city a $40,000 grant.

To apply, the artist must have had at least five years of experience with outdoor public art, completed a project of at least $200,000 and have experience with the design and fabrication of fountains.

The monuments might portray themes of civic identity and beauty, the Coral Gables community, the city’s history, the meaning of being a gateway, or the city’s connection with the natural world. At the request of Vice Mayor William Kerdyk Jr., the new monuments must also incorporate a fountain feature to keep in line with Merrick’s distinctive design.

Gregory Bush, an associate professor in UM’s history department, said that South Floridians have a weak sense of the past, but a monument could resolve this.

“Generally, many things in South Florida are erased in every generation,” Bush said. “A monument, if it is well designed and thoughtful and done with respect, will help us preserve where we’ve been and preserve the sense that everything isn’t erasable, and today that is something extremely important for us to remember.”

However, the impending construction leaves some students questioning the city’s priorities.

“If the statue was going to a good cause, then I could understand that,” said senior Kathryn Kolaczynski, a studio art and psychology double major. “Right now, they are redoing roads on U.S. 1, which is an effective use of money and construction time … I understand in terms of the artists’ perspective, it’s a commission, a way to gain money, but this is not needed right now, especially with the way the economy is.”

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Ashley Martinez is a senior majoring in journalism and psychology, which have sharpened her people-watching skills. She has worked as a staff writer, copy editor, assistant editor and is now the Edge arts and entertainment editor at The Miami Hurricane. She serves as the president of UM's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Her work has been featured in The Hurricane, Distraction Magazine, The Communique, Gables Home Page and The Miami Herald. When she's not working on a story, she loves going to the theatre and singing show tunes.