Surfing Madonna is in eye of the beholder

An art instructor told me “Once you put down the brush and stop painting it no longer belongs to you.” Her point was in life, and art, people will see what they choose to see.
Most Encinitas residents see the Surfing Madonna as a community gift. Business leaders of the Downtown Encinitas Merchants Association (DEMA) and Leucadia 101 business district see opportunity, saying, because of the Surfing Madonna, sales are up. While other cities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote a favorable image, the Surfing Madonna has given the city free press money can’t buy.
The Encinitas City Council sees it differently. Deputy Mayor Jerome Stocks said the artist “wanted to put the city between a rock and a hard place.” The Council finds themselves in a situation of their own making. The Council could make a “Madonna Motion” to change municipal code, but lack the political will to do so. Where residents see a gift, the Council sees a rock. Where merchants see opportunity, the Council sees a hard place. Where the community sees beauty, the Council sees graffiti.
More than 85 percent of residents and 100 percent of Encinitas merchants speaking before the Council asked that the Surfing Madonna remain where it is. An art curator said the art could last 10 years in its location. The Council said the Madonna has to go. Stocks told the public he needed to be “the grown up in the room.” Did Stocks think the merchants and residents in the room were children for having a different view than him? Many found his comment puzzling. If the Council is unwilling to support local merchants, whom do they support? DEMA merchants know you never look a gift horse in the mouth, and the Surfing Madonna is the gift that keeps on giving.
Stocks said the Surfing Madonna has to go because it did not follow the established process. Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar said the city needed to follow city code and not pick and choose. Thirty minutes earlier Stocks broke the process he and the city established for naming the Hall Park. Stocks ignored residents who submitted 170 names and Parks Commissioners who presented a final list of five names.
Stocks had his own name for the park and made a motion to use the name he came up with, calling it a “community park.” When Councilwoman Teresa Barth rightly pointed out that under city code the park did not qualify to be called a community park, but did qualify to be called a “special use park,” Gaspar supported Stocks’ motion by “picking and choosing” to break the city code where she wanted to.
Gaspar broke code and the process saying she wanted to “bring the community together.” What is bringing the community together is the free Surfing Madonna the public wants to keep and the Council wants removed. What is tearing the community apart is the $50 million dollar “special use park” we can’t afford and haven’t built.
Earlier this year Stocks, Gaspar and the Council broke the process and approved of City Manager Phil Cotton getting extra pay spiking his pension. Cotton signed a contract voted on in public. Cotton got extra pay exceeding his contract behind closed doors. Last year Stocks endorsed ex-Mayor Dan Dalager while knowing Dalager failed to follow the process and disclose a $100,000 loan. Dalager later pled guilty to the DA. In Encinitas there is one process for Stocks and the City Council and another process for the rest of us.

Stocks said “the art is doing exactly what the artists intended for it to do.” Some could choose to see the art as a negative with bad intent because it fits a personal view.
I can only speculate what the artist wanted. I choose to see the positive. If the Surfing Madonna was intended to bring residents together in joyous smiles, to help our local business merchants increase sales and tax revenues, and to promote our city in a favorable light, then I say job well done.
Others might debate that the art was intended to show the public the growing disconnect between voters and a City Council that only has political will when it benefits special interests. Another perspective might be that the art was intended to point out to the public the hypocrisy of Deputy Mayor Stocks and a City Council that demand residents follow processes and codes when they themselves will go around processes and break codes as they alone see fit.
Art is in the eye of the beholder. What do you choose to see?


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