What’s needed at the animal shelter? Food, meds — and thousands of dollars in art

The city of Key West wouldn’t let the Florida Keys SPCA off the leash when it comes to the legal requirement of setting aside money for public art every time new construction over $500,000 is built

The SPCA is in the middle of constructing an $8.4 million building on College Road on Stock Island. Under Key West law, 1 percent — in this case $65,000 — of the total must be set aside to pay for public art works.

Nonprofits, however, can ask for an exemption if they can show “a valid public purpose,” the city law states.

The SPCA tried, but the City Commission Wednesday agreed with its volunteer Art in Public Places board, which decided last week to give the animal shelter a partial break: The SPCA would have to come up with only one-half percent of the total construction for public art. Also, the SPCA may solicit donations of art to meet the requirement.

On an island filled with artists, the issue of whether the nonprofit should skip the Art in Public Places part of construction was divisive.

Art patrons said the exemption disrespects and devalues the work of artists. Others said a nonprofit such as the animal shelter needs all of its money to provide services to the city.

Marianne van den Broek, vice chairwoman of the Art in Public Places board, said the SPCA could have asked for the exemption before starting construction rather than wait until now.

“To ask for this after you go over budget and you need to find the money to cut the costs, that in my opinion is the wrong way,” she said.

SPCA Board President Jeff Johnson rolled the dice and Wednesday at City Hall asked the City Commission for a pass on the AIPP after thanking artists who had donated work for fundraisers over the years.

Artists have recently asked whether the SPCA would ask plumbers to donate their services. Johnson answered by saying contractors and building supply companies have offered the nonprofit discounts for their work.

Only Commissioner Sam Kaufman wanted to grant that pass.

“I don’t see this as being arts against animals,” Kaufman said. “Here’s a nonprofit organization that raised millions of dollars to build a building on city land, benefiting the taxpayers.”

Kaufman, however, was alone on the commission.

Commissioner Clayton Lopez supported the compromise, adding that the SPCA waited late in the game to ask for the exemption made possible in the ordinance.

“If the request is made in advance that might be one way to deal with that,” Lopez said. “There’s no question there will be others that are going to ask. There are a number of different scenarios that could arise.”