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Equine to remain at City Hall

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The core of the discussion of the fate of the “Equine” sculpture came down to contracts between artists and the city. In the case of “Equine,” since no contract or agreement could be found, the council agreed to have the City Attorney draft and send Oleson a contract stipulating the two main concerns of the city: ownership of the artwork and who will be responsible for maintenance. For now, “Equine” will remain.

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Beth Putnam from the Hernando County Fine Arts Council commented at the end of the discussion on “Equine” at the regular City Council meeting on December 6, 2021. Putnam advocated for the artist, James Oleson and requested the city apologize for Brooksville Beautification Board’s Chair Donna Morin’s statements to news agencies, calling the artwork “ugly”.

Un-painted horse sculpture

Morin spoke at the end of the discussion, apologizing to both the City Council and Oleson.

Oleson’s sculpture has been displayed outside Brooksville City Hall since 2013. After the Beautification Board voted unanimously to have it removed, the matter came before the City Council, and it was decided that the city would contact Oleson.

According to City Manager Ron Snowberger at the December 6, 2021 meeting, phone calls and certified mail sent to Oleson went unanswered.

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Then the sculpture was painted.

Unsure who painted the sculpture, Snowberger reached out to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) to request an informal investigation. HCSO contacted Boyette Groves, which is owned by Oleson’s family, and eventually located the artist who confirmed that he painted the sculpture.

The December 6 discussion was to decide how to proceed at this point.

Council Member Betty Erhard, also on the Beautification Board said, “The decision … to only remove the ‘Equine’ was to give other artists an opportunity to display their art. We felt that it wasn’t maintained. Moving forward, if the council wishes to keep it, I would personally like to see a contract, and who is responsible for maintaining it.”

There is no artwork presently waiting to take Equine’s place.

Council Member David Bailey suggested that the Equine remain in place until another artist intends to display their work.

Erhard asked, “If it sits on city property, who is going to be responsible to maintain it?”

Robert Battista concurred with Bailey and gave some history on the artwork that has adorned the front of city hall prior to 2013. The question is if the sculpture was given to the city or loaned. “The previous (sculpture) that was out there by Mr. Oleson, which was the “Long Legged Horse.” It wasn’t (given to the city). There were some members of the council that thought it was, and there was a little bit of a dustup. (Oleson) was allowed to remove that one and then put this one in its place.”

Snowberger responded that he and the city clerk looked for any evidence of the status of the original statue, but found none. He then suggested that the Art Gallery Coordinator be involved in the process in the future, ensuring that formal contracts are kept between the city and future artists.

Putnam said in her ending comments, “I want to make our position absolutely clear. Our mission is to encourage, promote and support all of the creative arts in Hernando County and to provide a means to showcase the arts. As part of that mission, we support the arts community and advocate for artists… it is important for us to speak up concerning the recent discussion in the media about… ‘Equine’. For many, Brooksville is the county’s art district. We believe it’s very important that we remain a welcoming, supportive space for artists. We feel strongly that when speaking to the public… the city council, the Beatification Board Chair and members owe it to the artist who graciously donated their artwork, time and talent to the city, to speak respectfully about the artwork.”

Putnam went on to say that the Fine Arts Council would assist in the removal and relocation of “Equine” when the time comes. “We ask that the city apologize to the artist for the statements made to the media recently by the Beautification Board Chair.”

During Morin’s final comments, she reported that she spent over an hour with a Bay News 9 reporter, and the public only saw a 10-second part in which she used the word “ugly.” She went to say, “I’ve seen a few of Mr. Oleson’s creations, and they’re lovely. I, too, know the Oleson family. But (“Equine”) had turned ugly. I owned that word … The word I used was harsh, because the sculpture was in poor condition, and a very poor representation of Mr. Oleson’s amazing sculptures.”

Morin concluded by saying, “I would like to apologize to Mr. Oleson for calling his sculpture ‘ugly.’ I deeply apologize to you, sir. It was a very harsh word to use for such a talented sculpture.” To the council, she said, “I look forward in the future to seeing more of his sculptures here, in the front of our City Hall. I wish that he would bring back one of his large horse sculptures because they are amazing.”

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