Following its landmark vote on June 30 to remove the controversial Emancipation Group statue that depicts a freed black slave crouching at the feet of President Abraham Lincoln from its current location in Park Square, the Boston Art Commission will assemble two subcommittees – one to create an event to inform the public of the piece’s history and permanent relocation and another to find it a new home – as well as consider the future of five other works of public art in the city’s collection.
Mark Pasnik, the commission’s chair, said during a July 14 virtual hearing, the commemorative event would perhaps take place virtually, rather than as a public gathering at the monument itself, in keeping with social distancing, and that the event would take place after the piece’s removal.
(The commission is also accepting public testimony on ideas for relocating the statue via email at http://www.boston.gov/departments/arts-and-culture/public-art-under-review.)
Karin Goodfellow, director of the Art Commission, said after the statue’s removal, permanent signage to interpret the piece, with proposed measurements of 24-by-36 inches, is being considered for installation at the site.
“A few signs are being considered for the site, three to four depending on their placement,” added Kara Elliot Ortega, a commission member and the city’s chief of arts and culture.
As for finding a new, publicly accessible home for the sculpture, Ekua Holmes, the commission’s vice chair, said the commission had already received offers to take it from other states, with descendants of both President Lincoln and Archer Alexander, the crouching slave depicted in the piece, expressing interest in it.
Ideally, Pasnik said the sculpture would be relocated to another site in the city.
“We should explore local options first…perhaps a long-term loan, or it could be on city property, such as a library,” he said.
Goodfellow said she expected the commission would be able to secure some funding from the city to install a new piece of public art at the current location of the Emancipation Group sculpture. She added that she would draft a comprehensive “policy memo on more equitable statues” to the city, which she would share with the commission at its next hearing.
“We should be more careful about this process and listen to a lot or people about what we need for this site…to shape an eventual [Request for Proposals] for a call for artists,” Pasnik said.
During public testimony, former State Rep. Byron Rushing said he doesn’t believe the Emancipation Group statue should be removed from its current location until after a new home has been found for it.
Instead, Rushing suggested covering the statue or “boxing it up” at its current location. “It would save a few dollars on storage fess,” he added.
Meanwhile, the commission has identified five other pieces of public art in its collection for further review – The Founders Memorial on the Boston Common; the Christopher Columbus Monument in Christopher Columbus Park in the North End; the Boston Common Tablet (The Blackstone Tablet); the Samuel Eliot Morison statue on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall; and the Francis Parkman Memorial in Jamaica Plain.