Don’t loot Chicago’s cultural heritage by selling Kerry James Marshall painting

SHARE Don’t loot Chicago’s cultural heritage by selling Kerry James Marshall painting

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has decided not to sell “Knowledge and Wonder,” a Kerry James Marshall painting, to help pay for renovations at the Legler library branch, where the painting was displayed. It is now in storage, and will be restored and put back into the library once renovations are complete. | Provided

Mayor Emanuel’s recent decision to auction off the Kerry James Marshall painting “Knowledge and Wonder,” commissioned in 1995 for the Legler Branch Library by the Percent for Art Program, may be well-intended. But it is wrong, and must be reconsidered.  

The aldermen who support the sale are right to support needed improvements to the Legler Library, and those improvements sound terrific, much-needed and long-overdue. But they shouldn’t be done at the expense of Chicago’s cultural heritage — especially an important, local artist who is just entering the world stage, and whose work is about elevating the black experience, often in Chicago — into the art world’s historical canon.

Residents of West Garfield Park and the rest of the city, and tourists from around the world, should be able to see Marshall’s painting in the place that was intended for it when the painting was commissioned, just as the artist was establishing his career.  

McCormick Place just auctioned off the city’s other Marshall painting and made a huge profit that will go towards “needed capital maintenance projects over the next 15 years at the convention center.” But why would you sell a unique cultural asset to cover normal operating expenses, especially when you can levy taxes and fees or float bonds to cover the cost, like Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority already does?  That is looting our cultural heritage for short-term gain. And now the city wants to do the same at Legler, depriving us all, now and into the future, of a unique, site-specific masterpiece.

Chicago’s public art ordinance needs to be updated to cover the process of deaccessioning (officially removing) city assets, with public involvement in that process. At the very least, the city should bring back the Public Art Committee and address deaccessioning of the collection in the ordinance. This proposed auction can’t be a backroom deal to sell off the city’s patrimony, throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Mayor Emanuel knows how to raise money.  He did it for bike paths along the lakefront, and he can do it for the library system. It’s not too late, and we are better than this.

Barbara Koenen, former public art administrator, Hyde Park  

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Citizens and cops

To the unidentified police sergeant who told the Sun-Times, following the Jason Van Dyke verdict, “Guys out there are thinking twice before they do police work. That’s not what citizens should want.” 

First, telling citizens what they should want is not the job of the police.  Second, maybe they ought to listen to what we do want. Many citizens want police who do think twice before  shooting. Several officers who were at the scene before Jason Van Dyke saw no need to shoot. Had Van Dyke thought twice, this tragedy would not have happened. Why should the judgment of the officer who begins shooting always overrule that of others who saw no need?

Steve Cohen, Evanston

Police contract reforms

The Oct. 7 editorial spelling out needed reforms in a renewed police work contract is welcome advice. Also welcome is its view on the Fraternal Order of Police for its criticism of the Van Dyke jury verdict, which the editorial termed “nonsense.”

It is acceptable to advocate for reasonable work rules, and to stand against the railroading of a police officer on shaky grounds. But based on decades of FOP-watching, they rarely, if ever, have conceded that some cops violate the rules and the law and deserve to be fired or punished. This only undercuts their own constructive influence, and implies to the rank-and-file that they can get away with going rogue. In turn, this undermines the morale of the preponderance of principled cops, who try to do the right thing by the rule book.

May whoever negotiates the contract renewal hold the FOP to the reforms spelled out by the Justice Department, to be enforced by court supervision in the consent decree. This is necessary to eliminate the so-called “code of silence,” which sabotages honest police work, and to repair broken trust between the Chicago police department and some of the communities they serve.

Ted Z. Manuel, Hyde Park

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