Sarasota’s iconic ‘kissing statue’ could soon disappear from bayfront for good

Sarasota County

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — The future of Sarasota’s iconic “kissing statue,” as many know it, is up in the air. The “Unconditional Surrender” sculpture needs to be moved from the bayfront to make space for the upcoming construction of a roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulf Stream Avenue.

Up until this week, many thought the move away from the popular bayfront location would be temporary. But now, there’s a possibility it could be permanent.

During a meeting on August 5, all seven members of the City of Sarasota’s Public Art Committee came to a decision to recommend the statue be moved to the Sahib Shriners location on Beneva Road, about four miles away from its current home near Marina Jack.

Potentate Gary Fields pitched the idea to the committee earlier this week. Fields says the nonprofit is willing to raise money to cover the cost to move the statue.

Chairman of the City of Sarasota Public Art Committee Josh Botzenhart tells 8 On Your Side the move would be long-term if approved.

“The recommendation, which will go to the city commission for approval in September, would be to re-home ‘Unconditional Surrender’ to this location indefinitely,” said Botzenhart.

“The Public Art Committee has taken input from a number of citizens, both those who want to see the statue stay in the city, as well as those who would like it to be removed entirely,” he added. “By relocating ‘Unconditional Surrender’ to Sahib Shriners, our intention is to provide the piece an area where it will be cared for and appreciated by a group that is primarily composed of veterans, while still allowing access to the public.”

Fields tells 8 On Your Side he is excited for the opportunity.

“We are inside the city limits of Sarasota so we feel it is going to be an appropriate place for it because we have plenty of parking and hopefully this will combine to get the word out on what we stand for,” said Fields. “We want the statue. We want to proudly display it and let the people with their memories come and explain to the families what it means to them.”

The kissing statue is an extremely popular spot for visitors to stop by and take photos mimicking the Navy sailor and nurse, but it’s also been a controversial piece.

“It is taking the attraction that people come here to see, it is putting it in a corner somewhere,” said Sarasota resident Peter Fredricksson. “It should be displayed because it has caught a lot of attention. A lot of people come here to see that statue and take pictures with it and pose with it so there should be something that shows off the good part. Why hide it?”

Sarasota resident Taylor Reister feels city leaders need to consider all viewpoints.

“It is triggering to some people. It can spark controversy, it has sparked controversy, it is vandalized. There are just a number of issues that you need to consider when moving it somewhere,” said Reister.

She feels given the heavy veteran population, Sahib Shriners makes sense.

“That is definitely a location that I am like, there’s a clear connection here. There’s going to be context. That seems like a safe space,” said Reister.

Reister says she would like to see signs explaining the history behind the statue.

The Public Art Committee plans on making that recommendation to city leaders.

“We’ve seen veteran support for the move to Shriners, which we feel is incredibly important to recognize. In addition, we are making a formal recommendation that a victims group work with Shriners to develop educational materials that accompany the sculpture. These materials would be an effort to support both those who have experienced sexual assault, as well as provide info to the public at large about the controversy surrounding this sculpture,” said Botzenhart.

The city commission has the final say on the sculpture’s final destination. They’re set to make a decision in September.

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