The brutality that erupted in Charlottesville over a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee revealed the quiet power of seemingly banal sculptures dotted around American towns and cities. The watershed event sparked an imperative and overdue national initiative to remove potentially offensive public artworks, especially in more “progressive” areas such as New York City.
Yet New York has been home to a number of monuments glorifying historically racist figures; from a plaque honoring a notorious Nazi sympathizer to a monument commemorating J. Marion Sims, the father of modern gynecology, who was also known to perform experimental surgeries on enslaved women without using anaesthesia.
The city consequently organized the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers to “advise the Mayor on issues surrounding public art and historic monuments and markers on City-owned property,” New York’s official website explains—but it’s not up to them alone. This month, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to make their voices heard.
An online survey, which will remain open until 11:59pm on November 26, is giving locals a platform for reporting any offensive statues, sculptures, monuments, or other works of public art directly to the city. The questionnaire asks participants to explain what they believe the role of public monuments should be, how they believe the city can cultivate safe public spaces, and what the city should consider in their review of these public artworks, among other related queries.
Later this month, a series of public meetings will be held in each of the five boroughs to discuss the future of New York City public monuments, and ruminate on how best to create “open and inclusive” public spaces. The hearings will be conducted by committee co-chairs Tom Finkelpearl, commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation.
According to the committee’s website, their “final recommendations may include proposed principles for the City’s public works collection; policies and actions the City may consider to review and address City installations; and additional initiatives to advance positive change and further City goals.”
Click here for the full schedule of public hearings, which begin on November 17, 2017 in Queens.