Unconditional Surrender to move closer to O’Leary’s Tiki Bar

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The emotional battle over the Unconditional Surrender statue has been won by those who wish to see it remain along Sarasota’s Bayfront.

Last week, the City Commission voted 4-1 to move the statue slightly to the south on a swath of parkland between O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill and Marina Jack.

Advocates on the commission for keeping the sculpture spoke of the intrinsic nature of controversy that is a hallmark of the artistic experience. Opponents at the meeting hope to see the artwork relocated and objected to the sculpture on artistic, aesthetic and in some instances moral, grounds.

The City also voted 4-1, with Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch dissenting in both votes, for the City to spend up to $45,000 from the Public Art Fund for the move. The public voted on the City’s website for the best location for the statue, and the O’Leary’s site was voted most popular. Ahearn-Koch preferred that the City move the sculpture to a site at the Sahib Shriner’s at 600 N. Beneva Rd. She argued that the Shriner’s had money allocated to fund the relocation as well as the upkeep of the statue.

A representative of Sahib Shriner’s told the commission that the organization was replete with veterans from World War II, and they were excited about the idea of moving the statue.

Instead, the commission opted to go with the Bayfront location over a suggestion by Mayor Hagen Brody to place it in a nearby roundabout. Commissioner Liz Alpert and Vice Mayor Erik Arroyo expressed concern that the roundabout would present a danger for the numerous visitors who take impromptu photo opportunities.

The decision to move the statue was prompted on two fronts. The first is because the City’s obligation to display the artwork in its location has sunset-ed and secondly, the construction of the pending roundabout at US 41 and Gulfstream Avenue necessitates its removal.

The statue depicts a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day, which marks the surrender of Japan in World War II.

The President of Visit Sarasota County, Virginia Haley, told the commission that a quarter of all tourists to the city visit the statue. Former Mayor Kelly Kirschner argued at the meeting that the statue was an appropriated and “pirated” work and that it took away from the area’s status as a true art community. He said it was not original and diminished the City’s commitment as a serious art community.

Others at the meeting argued that the statue represents sexual subjugation and they said that the drunken sailor forced the woman into a headlock and gave her an unwelcome kiss. A resident showed the commission images that were taken after the kiss, showing the woman acting in self-defense and trying to hit the sailor as the kissing took place.

Commissioner Alpert said that these actions have to be taken contextually and that it spoke to the joy that American’s felt on that day.

Vice Mayor Arroyo said people would have to “dig deep to find some offense in this.”

There was some discussion of a copyright infringement regarding the statue, which was created by Seward Johnson, but City Attorney Robert Fournier said he felt there was a credible argument that the statute of limitations had ended and he was not concerned about a lawsuit.

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