City launches project to assess public art and monuments

Monuments and public art will be catalogued, and an advisory committee will determine which pieces demand action.

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Christopher Columbus statue found at Arrigo Park at 801 S. Loomis St., Thursday, June 11, 2020. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Christopher Columbus statue at Arrigo Park was removed in late July. A city project will now assess art and monuments across the city.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office has outlined a project to assess Chicago’s monuments and decide whether they need to be removed or changed.

The “racial healing and historical reckoning” project will catalogue statues and other public art across the city, and an appointed advisory committee will determine if pieces require the city to take action, the mayor’s office said Wednesday. The city plans to commission new art and create a platform to solicit community input on the project, which is a partnership among the mayor’s office, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Schools.

“This effort is not just about a single statue or mural, but how we create a platform to channel our city’s dynamic civic energy to purposefully reflect our values,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a news release.

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The project’s announcement comes in the wake of the city’s removal of three Christopher Columbus statues. The city removed statues in Little Italy and Grant Park July 24 after violent clashes between protesters and police and activists trying to take the statue down themselves. The third statue, on the Far South Side, was taken down a week later.

Gabriel Piemonte, who has called for the permanent removal of the Columbus statues, said the project is a “great start” to reexamining art strewn across Chicago.

“I welcome the opportunity for our city to have a public conversation,” said Piemonte, founder and president of the Italian American Heritage Society of Chicago. “We are celebrating people because we’ve always celebrated them, but if you go back to the point of origin, it’s often an uncomfortable, painful or — in the case of Christopher Columbus — horrific history.”

Mark Kelly, commissioner of DCASE, Bonnie McDonald, president and CEO of Landmarks Illinois, and Jennifer Scott, director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, will co-chair the advisory committee. Other members will include artists, historians and elected officials from across the city, according to the release. The committee plans to convene in August.

Heather Miller, executive director of the American Indian Center on Chicago’s North Side, will also sit on the committee. As a member of the DCASE arts and culture advisory council, Miller said the DCASE group has been asking for a project like this since January.

“Folks have called [Lightfoot] out enough that she’s starting to figure out she needs some sort of formal response,” Miller said. “Given the fact that we’ve seen statues come down and we’ve seen folks having much larger conversations around what’s being portrayed as art in the city, all these things at this particular time forced this conversation.”

She noted myriad statues and art that need to be addressed, including the Native Americans on horseback at Grant Park, murals and statues in Chicago Public Schools and other effigies of Native Americans.

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