Mile High Art

A Tampa International Airport (TIA) Call to Artists has generated some interesting conversation among Tampa Bay artists and arts professionals. The TIA call is an exciting, important request for bold, innovative public art projects to be included in the airport expansion. An available budget of $3.5 million dollars will fund a maximum of twelve projects. Individual artists responding to the call are required to have sold a piece of artwork for at least $15,000.

This $15,000 requirement has generated the most spirited part of the conversation. Remarks include a concern the $15,000 benchmark will leave out local artists, and perhaps the call could have included a specific budget for local artists.

I participated in one of these spirited conversations at the last Creatives ReFired breakfast. Creatives Refired is a Tampa-based artist collective of professional women artists, and full disclosure, I am a member. The Creatives breakfast is a monthly occasion and we discuss matters relating to art. I know how challenging it can be for artists to price their artwork at a high enough dollar figure to merit their time and materials and still sell their work. Discovering the price of artwork excluded some artists from an exciting local call stung a little.

We joked that an artist could have sold one piece to their mother and still meet the requirement. But the $15,000 requirement was not set capriciously. The individual artwork sale price, in part, establishes a standard, an expectation of a selected artist's capabilities. The call details the requirements: "visual artists working in any medium with experience executing their ideas from concept to completion, meeting a specified budget and timeframe, and working in the public realm with public agencies." 

I know local artists, including those in the Creatives group, who have such experience, either with the dollar figure or by resume. Additionally, the call offers individual artists the opportunity to pair with another artist or a team, further increasing opportunity. But the competition will be strong, national and international artists will apply. Besides the price of individual work element,  artists will need to emphasize their experience "working in the public realm with public agencies."

The requirements for artists participating in public art commissions are unique. Budgets can be very high, not all communities can afford to fund such commissions. For example, a temporary public art commission, created by Janet Echelman and installed in Boston this summer, had a budget of $500.000. The budget includes expenses for engineering, videography and installation services. That dollar figure was for a temporary installation; the TIA call will fund up to twelve permanent works. 

An artist must have a grand vision and strong desire to undertake such a project, often taking up to a year or more to complete.  A public art commission can be a next step or a cumulation in an artistic career. It is not for all artists. It is important to note TIA has made curated artist space available, and I know has commissioned artwork by local artist Christopher Still. They have not ignored the local arts community. 

The TIA Call to artists is very exciting. I am sure there will be intriguing new artwork incorporated into the airport. I read recently "the public art call does not tilt in favor of Bay area artists." But, I am not willing to underestimate our local or regional artists. If a local artist, or team, is a final selection, it won't be because they have sold an individual piece for $15,000, it will be because they have the talent to execute the project.

If you have not heard about this call, or want to learn more about it, a workshop to provide information and answer questions is scheduled for Aug. 14 at 3 p.m. in the airport’s boardroom, located on the third floor of the main terminal. Artists can also attend online. Artists with questions regarding this process should contact the Authority’s Procurement Agent:James Hanney (813) 870-8779.