A 6-month moratorium on public murals in the city of Sanford received a cold shoulder from elected officials.
City staff proposed the moratorium to allow Sanford’s recently created Public Arts Commission to develop an ordinance outlining guidelines for public art and murals.
But Mayor Jeff Triplett said the moratorium sends the wrong message. Triplett said the city commission created the Public Arts Commission to create an art-friendly community. A moratorium would send the wrong message.
“It’s not who we are, we want to promote art,” Triplett said.
Furthermore, Triplett said the moratorium is aimed at one man: Jeff Sonksen, the artist who has gained fame for his “Paint the Trail” artwork along the Seminole County Trail between Lake Mary and Longwood.
Sonksen has provided changing public murals featuring local events next to the Sanford Welcome Center for about a year. He has also painted murals on privately-owned buildings on Sanford Avenue, including one vacant, dilapidated building the owner and plans to tear down.
No other artist is painting murals for public viewing in Sanford.
“Why does this need to be a formal thing?” Triplett said after Monday’s public hearing. “It’s a typical government over-reach. Why are we writing an ordinance calling for a moratorium against one guy when we can make a phone call and have a discussion with the artist? It’s like calling the cops when your neighbor plays the music too loud. Go next door and ask him to turn it down.
Triplett said he talked with Sonksen, who has agreed not to do any more murals. In fact, Sonken agrees there needs to be guidelines for public art.
“I have rules for the trail art, obviously a city should have rules as well,” said Sonksen his Facebook page Paint the Trail.
Sonksen admits he has been doing murals around town to “irritate” city staff, specifically Historic Preservation Officer Christine Dalton.
But the genesis for his beef with Dalton is her delay in creating guidelines for public art. In fact, Sonksen said he spoke with Dalton about doing a mural on a privately-owned space more than two years ago. He even attended a public meeting at her request to promote the idea, but Dalton never returned his emails.
“It shouldn’t take 2 years to put a mural program in place,” Sonksen said. Triplett had the same complaint.
“I’ve been asking for a mural program for 4 years. What’s taking so long? And why is it now time for a moratorium?”
Given his interaction with Dalton, Sonksen said he fears the Public Art Commission will kill creativity in Sanford.
“I just have a feeling that the preservation lady (Dalton) and her squad will make painting a mural a long, slow, pain-in-the-ass process, resulting in lack of interest,” Sonksen wrote in a Facebook.
The moratorium idea is not completely dead. District 1 Commissioner Art Woodruff was successful in getting the matter tabled until the April 11th meeting. Woodruff said he wants to see how much progress the Public Arts Commission makes, and if there are other issues.
District 2 Commissioner Velma Williams said delaying the matter would be of little use.
“You can continue it for 4 weeks, but it’s not going to change my opinion. I don’t believe a moratorium is called for,” said Williams.
A tip of my hat and a thumbs-up for Jeff Sonksen.