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Our Founding President Describes the Origin of the Florida Association of Public Art Administrators


Vince Ahern

Institute for Research in Art
University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum
Public Art Program Coordinator, retired

Since its official beginnings in March of 1998, the Florida Association of Public Art Administrators has met in a variety of locations around the state: Miami, hosted by the Dade Art in Public Places Program; Fort Lauderdale, hosted by the Broward County Public Art Program; the University of South Florida, hosted by the USF Public Art Program; the University of Central Florida, hosted by UCF Public Art Program; Tallahassee, hosted by Florida’s Art in State Building’s Program, Division of Cultural Affairs; Tampa, hosted by the City of Tampa’s Public Art Program; Key West, hosted by the Key West Public Art Program and St. Petersburg, hosted by the City of St. Petersburg Public Art Program.

These meetings, attracting 20-40 individuals participating or interested in the field of public art, have provided excellent opportunities, not only to learn about the various programs in Florida and their outstanding public art acquisitions, but also to discuss topics of concern to professionals in the field. Topics addressed have ranged from collaboration to maintenance, memorials to contracts. Between meetings, the members of FAPAA have served the field by providing contract models, consultation and recommendations to emerging programs both in the state and beyond. Regular meetings of the association have been key to promoting a collegial relationship between the state’s Public Art Administrators that, in turn, has served to advance the collective effort to create art that meets the highest standards in the public realm of this State.

The idea for the organization originally emerged in the spring of 1997 at an informal meeting between Vincent Ahern, Coordinator of Public Art for the University of South Florida, Barbara Hill, Public Arts Administrator of the City of Tampa and Jan Stein, Public Arts Administrator for Hillsborough County. The group gathered to discuss a brochure, which was to be jointly published between the three groups highlighting recently completed public art projects in the Tampa area. During the course of the meeting, the group discussed the need to get together more regularly with our colleagues across the state to discuss issues related to public art in Florida. Ahern, Hill and Stein agreed that such meetings might be best organized under the auspice of an association and that an effort should be undertaken to establish such a group. Ahern agreed to follow-up by contacting other administrators of Public Art Programs within the State of Florida.

On June 13, 1997, the following nine individuals met at the University of South Florida to discuss the prospects of establishing a Public Art Association: Vincent Ahern, Claire Garrett, Barbara Hill, Francis Martin, Lee Modica, David Nickels, Jan Stein and Jay Willis. Invited but unable to attend were: Jean Greer, Frank Holt, and Vivian Rodriguez. During this meeting, the group heard a report from Jay Willis, Director of the Public Art Studies Program at the University of Southern California, in which he described the Public Art Coalition of Southern California, which had been in existence for a few years. It was further decided to organize a charter meeting to elect a Board of Directors and to write a mission statement and by-laws in order to meet the requirements to establish a 501.3 (c) organization. The group then developed an expanded list of Public Art Administrators that might be interested in contributing to the formation of an association.

On September 5, 1997 the group met at the Orlando City Hall. There were 14 individuals in attendance including: Vincent Ahern, Amy Vigilante Dickerson, Aimee Gunter, Brenda Harris, Barbara Hill, Frank Holt, Francis Martin, Lee Modica, David Nickels, Robin Nigh, Teresa Robert, Vivian Rodriguez, Mary Shaw, Lynne Vrouhas, and James Wyman. During the course of the meeting a number of issues were discussed including mission statement, by-laws, membership perimeters, dues and a name for the organization. By consensus it was agreed that this organization be called the Florida Association of Public Art Administrators (FAPPA). Lee Modica presented a report on chartering an organization in the State of Florida and outlined the steps required to become an organization meeting the 501.3 (c) guidelines. It was agreed that the group would reconvene in December to address the various elements required for chartering an organization. In preparation for that meeting, Vivian Rodriguez agreed to draft a mission statement and a set of by-laws based on the September 5 meeting discussion. Further, Lee Modica agreed to contact Malinda Horton, Association Manager for the Florida Association of Museums, to see if she would be willing to serve as Manager for this new association as well.

On December 11, 1997, the group met at the University of Central Florida. This was a pivotal meeting, although a stormy day limited attendance to seven individuals: Vincent Ahern, Amy Dickerson, Barbara Hill, Lee Modica, David Nickels, Teresa Robert and James Wyman. In order to meet the requirements for chartering, a Board of Directors was elected consisting of the individuals in attendance. A mission statement was adopted, as were by-laws. Initial membership dues were collected in order to establish a bank account and Lee Modica was unanimously elected as interim Treasurer to accept individual membership payments. Due to the limited attendance, it was determined that the selection of officers would occur at the next meeting of the Association, which was scheduled for March 27, 1998 at the University of South Florida.

Thirteen individuals attended the March 27 meeting at the University of South Florida. The Board of Directors was expanded to include Jean Greer, Francis Martin and Vivian Rodriguez. A slate of officers was also elected: Vincent Ahern, President; Vivian Rodriguez, Vice President; Lee Modica, Treasurer; and David Nickels, Secretary. It was agreed that Malinda Horton would serve as Association Manager, a registered agent for the organization. By electing it’s first slate of officers, FAPAA’s organizational period was complete.

What lay ahead for the members of FAPAA was the business of getting together periodically to connect with our colleagues, to have meaningful conversations about public art and to discuss how best to serve the profession in Florida.

Vincent Ahern
May, 2003 – 2010

In 2010, the Board of Directors voted to change the name of the organization to the Florida Association of Public Art Professionals in order to be more inclusive. This reflected the nature of the people attending the conference and the changing roles and many hats worn by those overseeing the administration of the Public Art programs in the State of Florida.

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