One of the advantages (or maybe it’s a disadvantage) of being a member of the same editorial board for 27 years is that you develop an institutional memory.
One memory I would have preferred to let slip away is from the 1980s, when the Broward County Commission first passed its Art in Public Places ordinance. In the name of beautifying our sometimes less-than-esthetically-pleasing metropolitan surroundings, it was decreed that a certain percentage (one or two percent⎯that I can’t remember) of the total cost of any new government construction⎯be it a building, park, sewage treatment plant, or whatever⎯must be reserved to buy public art to decorate the place.
I think some board was constituted under the aegis of the county that would pass judgment upon the artistic worth of the submissions, and make the purchases. Anyway, one of the county’s first acquisitions under the program was a work titled New River Rising, wherein the sculptor had skimmed detritus from the surface and banks of said river, the kind of stuff you look at from your vessel and go, “EWWWW!” He had arranged it in an abstract manner on a big piece of canvas, added some painterly flourishes, and presented it to the commission along with a bill for $60,000 (this was back when sixty grand in taxpayer money was still worth something).
We had an arts critic at the time, and he was present when the editorial board met with the arts commission at their request. He really stuck it to them over New River Rising, I remember. They tried gamely to defend their decision, but it was really indefensible. If anything, the work in question didn’t need defending so much as fumigating. I think it ended up hanging over the stairwell of the county government building, because nobody knew what else to do with it. Maybe it’s still there.
By the way, if anyone thinks my suggestion for a beachfront sculpture above has merit, I hope they will feel free to approach the county commissioners and recommend it to them. I’ll be happy to sculpt it, and I’ll even give the county a discount⎯only fifty grand. A bargain.