Sunken Treasures

Labriola is keen on the idea of installing the sculpture along South Beach, where it could be experienced by more people than her Key West work. While Stargazer is visited primarily by marine biology students from Florida Keys Community College as a research site, Galaxy would provide recreational divers and snorkelers a chance to swim from shore and "leave the hustle and bustle of our world and take the time to enjoy our fragile environment, which we must be aware of before we lose it."

But where Labriola imagines an oasis, the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce's Ken English sees a trendy underwater park -- presumably the more crowded the better. "Ann's project would be nothing but a drop in the bucket," English gushes in describing a visionary snorkeling reef "with the pizzazz of South Beach. The Galaxy would become a centerpiece that we're looking to wrap things around. The plan would be to put other things down there."

Such as what type of other things? "An underwater something," English ventures, that would honor slain fashion icon Gianni Versace and be created from ten enormous blocks of marble confiscated by the FBI during a 1995 drug seizure. (Two of the marble blocks had been hollowed out to store cocaine.)

Although she is reluctant to criticize English's tourist fantasy (the chamber has endorsed her Galaxy proposal), Labriola admits she's not too excited about his concept of a Versace memorial. "There should be a panel to decide what goes down there," she says carefully. "Things should be chosen that are outstanding."

Bruce Henderson agrees. "We've talked about trying to assemble some sort of group or maybe using the Art in Public Places committee to organize a charrette for designs for these marble blocks," he says. "We'd like to make sure we don't sink a pile of rubble just to say there's something out there." Labriola's successful record of large-scale environmental works was enough to recommend her for the project, he notes, adding that that the chamber of commerce does not make decisions for the city. "It's not their reef project," he states flatly. "I don't want to dampen anyone's enthusiasm, but all this has to carefully planned."

At the moment Labriola is not too concerned about what might end up sharing the ocean floor with her sculpture -- and with good reason: So far there's no money for any of it, least of all from the chamber or the city. English suggests that the chamber might help coordinate events aimed at raising the needed half-million dollars, but nothing definite has been scheduled. To date only Jack Penrod -- one of the owners of Penrod's -- has made a pledge toward the sculpture, a very respectable $10,000.

Most of the fundraising Labriola expects to undertake on her own. She's done it before. She solicited the $125,000 needed for Stargazer from private and corporate donors, "literally going door to door." The U.S. Navy offered her the use of one of their barges to transport the work to the site, and navy divers installed the piece. Some materials were donated.

Labriola says she is planning the same sort of approach for Galaxy. The artist, who owns the Nuthouse -- a store selling nuts, chocolates, and gifts at mile marker ten on Big Coppitt Key -- has begun visiting Miami two days each week in search of sponsors. "I probably belong in a nuthouse," she laughs. "I don't know how many artists would do this." Still, she's confident that her South Beach project will be realized. "I have a lot of patience and a lot of perseverance," she says. "I believe if you are diligent at something, it will happen." At least she has time on her side: Her government permit doesn't expire until 2002.

Stargazer is located approximately five miles southeast of Key West, near the Sand Key light, at latitude 24 27.51' N, longitude 81 52.08'

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