NYC Launches Review of Public Art, One Model to Consider

New York City recently created a Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers,  a model worth reviewing. Just like our recent debate over art in the Minnesota State Capitol, many communities are wrestling with how our historic public art often tells a very narrow and inaccurate story.

The Commission was created in September. Mayor Bill de Blasio said:

There is an important conversation taking place right now about history and representation in public art, monuments and markers. Our diverse group of experts will create a thoughtful set of guidelines that acknowledge the complexities of history and the values that matter to us as New Yorkers.

Gaen hia uh, Betty Lyons (Onondaga Nation, Snipe Clan), President of the American Indian Law Alliance, recently spoke to the Commission. She asked that all statues of Columbus on public lands be removed and relocated.

Claims that Columbus was simply a man from the past, out of step with today’s values ignoring the fact that this is ongoing. This is not in the past.

Continuing to celebrate Columbus, and leaving monuments of him up is the continued act of erasure to ensure that “Americans” will never be educated on the reality of our harsh shared history. …

We are not asking for reconciliation as it is not possible to reconcile all that has been done but you can make a conscientious choice to do the right thing as these unspeakable horrors and many more are not deserving of celebration. We are asking the monuments of Columbus be moved to a museum, where they can be placed in accurate historical context for future generations to learn from. These monuments to hate must come down now!

Lyons full testimony can be found here.

A Teddy Roosevelt statue in New York City. (Wikimedia Commons)

Also, for a good 13-minute TED Talk on this topic, see: Can Art Amend History? Included is a commentary on a statue that sits in front of the New York City Natural History Museum. It depicts Teddy Roosevelt riding tall in the saddle. According to the Wikimeida description: “Roosevelt is shown on horseback as both a hunter and explorer. He is flanked by the figures of two guides, one Native American and one African, meant to symbolize the continents of America and Africa.”

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