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Utility Box Art Submissions Reveal Disconnect Between Redevelopment and Community

After a failed Call to Artists by the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency last year, elected officials tabled utility box art proposals at two city meetings in a row in October and November 2018. "These are definitely Jimi Hendrix sort of boxes,” Commissioner Tommy Ruzzano said.

Elected officials sitting as both the city commission and Margate Community Redevelopment Agency set out last year to wrap 36 utility boxes citywide. More than 250 submissions were received from artists around the country most having little or nothing to do with Margate, Florida.

In the wake of other Broward cities that have adopted the trend, the MCRA budgeted $25,000 toward the cause and came up empty.

"I’m really not thrilled with the majority of them to be honest with you,” said Commissioner Joanne Simone. "I don’t think they represent anything in Margate.”

Ruzzano and Commissioner Anthony Caggiano agreed.

"I would thank them for their submissions and then say ‘no thanks’” suggested Caggiano.

"Some of these are a little out there,” Ruzzano said.

Of 36 utility boxes that would be wrapped citywide, 24 are located within MCRA boundaries and 11 are not.

Instead of reaching out locally for artists, the MCRA engaged.

There are quite a few I don’t love,” reiterated Simone.

Fast forward over a year later and two more submissions were tabled by elected officials two months in a row. Only one – a wood owl – was culturally connected to Margate, said Simone. Of five committee members selected to choose submissions two lived in Margate; another a member of ArtServe; and two others from the MCRA marketing department.

As a whole, the lack of a background in art may have been a detriment to committee members who boiled the MCRA list down to a total 13 selections (seen by clicking hyperlinks at top of article). To this end, elected officials expressed disappointed that MCRA staff failed to reach out to local teachers and students in a timely manner. While the Call to Artist process concluded July 17, 2017; MCRA officials told commissioners a month later that school was out and no submissions were received. A local art teacher was asked to participate but said she couldn’t.

Formed in 1996, the MCRA has a track record of disconnect with the Margate community. Parking lots of MCRA-owned plazas downtown remain in disrepair and a façade program for shopping centers has yet to commence; this despite numerous discussions and the approval of expenditures. Notably few, if any, MCRA staff live in Margate.

Having boosted the MCRA public art budget from $25,000 to $50,000 in Fiscal Year 2019, elected officials remain stumped for acceptable works of art to wrap utility boxes at Margate intersections. Meanwhile, the City, like others, have artists in their backyard.

When asked if he could post proposed works on his Facebook page to garner feedback from social media users, Ruzzano was told 'no' by both the MCRA marketing staff and the attorney for the Agency. The two were concerned about copyright infringement for artwork not yet paid for.

"By submitting a proposal, the Artist hereby irrevocably grants the MCRA and the City of Margate, its officers, agents, and employees the unconditional right and permission to photograph, broadcast, distribute, reproduce, copy, exhibit, publish, and utilize the contents of the proposal, in whole or in part, in any medium now or later developed, for any purpose, without charge to the MCRA or the City, and without payment to the Artist of any compensation, fee, royalty, or damages from the point of submission until selection of the successful proposer(s)."

In a city with a median population age of 43, the City and MCRA would be well served by conserving dollars and looking for artists locally – not out of town or nationwide. Per MCRA marketing staff, submissions came from all over the U.S., a violation of submission rules:

Eligible artists must reside in the Tri-county area of Broward, Palm Beach or Miami-Dade Counties. Preference will be given to artists who are Margate residents.”

Margate itself sponsors a digital photography contest to which locals participate monthly for free. Numerous indigenous photographs have been collected and published since the inception of the program more than a year ago. Also seen here are photographs taken of Margate waterways and wildlife submitted to the City for free by a Margate organization, but left from consideration. (Photos courtesy of Margate Waterfront Foundation)

Commissioner, Arlene Schwartz, made a poignant observation regarding traffic safety and whether wrapped utility boxes have the potential to distract motorists while driving. Current distractions include smoking, eating, texting, Facebooking and talking on the phone. After artwork proposals were tabled once again at last week’s city meeting, Schwartz told that she’s not sure if and when the topic will be addressed again by the City or MCRA.

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