Insurance concerns delay decision on Sebastian art club gallery

SEBASTIAN – The Sebastian River Art Club wants to open a public gallery within the former City Hall complex, but concerns over liability and insurance prompted the Sebastian City Council to postpone making a decision.

“I’m not surprised,” Art Club member Toni Hill said of the delay and concerns the council expressed earlier this week.

“The council’s very thorough,” agreed Peni Baker.

Mayor Richard Gillmor, president of the Sebastian River Art Club, excused himself from the dais Wednesday evening so as to not influence his fellow council members.

In May, the club presented its request for space in the former Public Works Department offices, which has been vacant for the last three or four years and used as a storage area of sorts.

The 1,000-square-foot space would be divvied up among approximately 15 members who have expressed a willingness to pay rent for their space.

Funds generated from the rents would go back into the gallery’s treasury, making it financially self-sufficient, according to the club.

Gallery members would be allowed to sell their artwork at the gallery. The commission would go into the gallery’s treasury, as well.

The issue of inviting the public – non-club members – into the gallery caused council members to pause during the discussion and ask about the city’s liability and the club’s ability to provide insurance in the event something happened on site.

City Manager Al Minner told the council that the city would take full responsibility. He added that the clause in proposed lease agreement stating the club would hold the city harmless in any and all claims is essentially worthless.

“In the long run it will probably be an empty statement,” Minner told the council.

“I think that’s a major problem,” Councilman Don Wright said, later withdrawing his support of the lease. The “entire contract has very little meaning.”

Minner explained to the council that other groups lease space within city buildings and invite the public in, including the Sebastian Historical Society and Indian River State College.

Minner could not say for certain if the historical group has its own liability insurance or if the city is covering it.

“We’re taking on liability when we extend that service,” Minner said of providing civic groups space in city-owned facilities, later adding, “We do accept a certain amount of risk.”

Along with asking Minner to provide more information about insurance requirements, the council asked him to address commercial use within civic buildings.

Wright said that the art club’s plan to sell artwork within the gallery might make the rules different.

“I don’t know that anyone expects the sales to go that great,” he added.

After the council meeting, Sebastian River Art Club member Judy Burgarella said that the club might consider not directly selling their gallery pieces on site. Instead, members of the public could make inquiries to the artist on an individual basis.

The gallery, then, would be more about exhibiting work for the public’s viewing and less about generating sales for the participating artists.

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