Art Commission Discusses Emancipation Group Statue; Other Public Art Updates

The Boston Art Commission (BAC) met virtually on October 13, where members discussed updates to ongoing public art projects in the city.

BAC Director Karin Goodfellow talked about some long term projects that will last for five or more years,, including one at the Jamaica Plain branch of the Boston Public Library, as well as some shorter-term projects, which will last for 18 months or fewer, such as the PaintBox pro-gram in which artists are permitted to paint a utility box in the city.

She said that artists have been approved to work during COVID-19, and there will be 26 new or replacement utility box designs in 2020.

Goodfellow also talked about existing public art, including the Emancipation group statue, which the BAC had previously unanimously voted to remove from Park Square, where it is lo-cated. The statue shows Abraham Lincoln with a freed slave at his feet.

A slide presented at the hearing stated that an art conservator will “recommend how the bronze statue is removed, and supervise its removal and placement into temporary storage,” and document the artwork in various forms for the BAC archives. The BAC reported that they have received two applications so far from “qualified conservators,” and the group is waiting for more bids. They said that “we expect the contract will be finalized shortly and work will commence by November 2020.”

BAC member Robert Freeman reported on behalf of the Emancipation Group Recontextualization Subcommittee, which he said has recommended that public land not be used for a new site for the sculpture. Instead, they recommended that an educational institution or other loca-tion be used.

Questions remain whether the space should instead be used for a new monument, open space for concerts, or something else, he said. The next subcommittee meeting on October 23 will provide an opportunity for those suggestions to be heard.

BAC member Ekua Holmes reported on behalf of the Event Subcommittee for this sculpture,  and said that the subcommittee held a brainstorming session and decided that they would like to hold two to three online events with guest speakers, with one of them being a youth/teen curated event, one when the sculpture is crated, and a third when it is removed.

A third event will be held when the art “finds a new home,” she said.

The BAC also discussed the Christopher Columbus statue in Christopher Columbus Park in the North End, which was beheaded in June. While at least one resident spoke out against the statue on behalf of indigenous people, specifically the Tiano community, because of Columbus’ mistreatment of indigenous folks, others, many of whom are Italian-American, spoke in favor of the statue because of what they say the statue represents for their heritage in the North End.

The BAC said they do not support vandalism in any manner, and voted to accept recommen-dations from staff, which include that “repairs and replacement to an exterior public location are not recommended by the [Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture] based on conservator reports,” and instead transferral to storage or another interior location is recommended, so the statue can “be interpreted and removed from risk of further damage.” It was also recommended that city corporation council determine who should have custody of the statue, as it is not part of the BAC collection and that the pedestal is kept where it is with the addition of interpretive signage.

The BAC said that there are more conversations to be had about the potential for two new artworks, one with the Italian-American community, and one with the indigenous communities as well.

The BAC also announced that there will be a special meeting, with a date and format yet to be an-nounced, regarding “Indigenous Public Art and Cultural Spaces in Boston.” Goodfellow said that the BAC is “reaching out to people with diverse native perspectives,” and the meeting will be in collaboration with those who have made specific requests about this topic at previous public meetings. 

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