Bradenton DDA hires public art coordinator

Bradenton Herald – Ann Wykell hopes to add some spice to downtown in the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority’s new position as public art coordinator.

The 58-year-old will work alongside the DDA’s new Public Art Advisory Board and Realize Bradenton to implement public art projects that will help beautify and revitalize downtown.

Public art is one of several undertakings in Realize Bradenton’s urban master plan. Through the plan, the committee hopes to generate more cultural arts and activities in downtown, which in turn will draw residents and tourists out to take advantage of the amenities area businesses have to offer, said Realize Bradenton chairman Vernon DeSear.

Talk of public art has generated interest in the area for some time but has not taken off.

“What we really want to do now is make some projects happen — get some art out there for people to enjoy,” Wykell said.

Wykell was previously the cultural affairs manager of the City of St. Petersburg’s Office of Cultural Affairs and International Relations — a job she held for nine years until city budget cuts eliminated her position in April. Part of her duties included growing St. Petersburg’s public art program to revitalize downtown.

She hopes to do the same here by melding public art with other cultural projects.

“Public art is most successful in terms of community revitalization when its done in conjunction with other things,” she said. “That’s what I think the opportunity is in Bradenton. There are other things being planned that hopefully will be attempted, and the public art will help to add to that momentum.”

Wykell said there’s a lot of energy and creativity here, which will likely produce a well-spring of innovative creations for downtown.

Her $28,000 temporary position is part time — created with private funds collected from the Barcarrota Boulevard streetscape project — with a chance to become a permanent part- or full-time position after a year.

Since the area is hurting from the bad economy, Mike Kennedy, executive director of the DDA, said it’s a good time to bring someone of Wykell’s caliber in to help generate positive activity and a thriving economy for downtown.

“From a business person’s perspective, well-designed and thoughtful art at a business provides a pleasant atmosphere for customers,” he said.

And will bring them back for more.

Wykell, who holds degrees in dance, French and business administration, said the arts contribute to the liveliness of a place and helps create a unique identify for a city.

Among her accomplishments in St. Petersburg was the 2001 Baywalk walkway project, which beautified the area between the Baywalk parking garage and its shops. The project, filled with the delicate metalwork art of international artist Alex Klahm, quickly raised awareness for downtown’s revitalization efforts.

“Public art, when it’s in certain places, can really help signal what kind of community are we, and this was a project that did that because of its scale and centralized location,” said Wykell, who was also assistant director for the Sarasota County Arts Council in the 1990s.“Nothing like that had never been put up in St. Petersburg before.”

Other public art projects she worked on were placed in neighborhoods. Projects such as library murals give people a daily taste of art in their communities.

But, her successes in St. Petersburg didn’t spring up overnight. It took months of talking and planning, something that started before Wykell got there.

“We’re at the beginning of the payoff,” said Wykell of Bradenton. “The very beginning of the payoff.”

published July 22, 2009

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