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NYC Wants Citizens’ Input on Public Monuments and Markers That May Support Hate

The Mayor’s Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers has launched a seven-question survey asking for public feedback about potentially hateful monuments.

The Columbus Column monument at the center of Columbus Circle (photo by bones64 via Pixabay)

New Yorkers, it’s time to share your thoughts on your city’s public monuments. Today, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers launched an online survey to help his administration review all possible public symbols of hate across the five boroughs. The commission was announced in September amid a national debate over the presence of Confederate symbols on public land, which flared after white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to stop the removal of a Robert E. Lee monument.

The seven-question survey will influence the commission’s 90-day review of landmarks to ensure that the city’s public spaces “remain open and inclusive.” Questions range from, “What do you think is the role of public monuments in our city’s public spaces?” to, “What factors should the City consider when reviewing a monument?” Participants also have the option to comment on any specific, existing monuments of concern, and include a proposal for how they think the city should handle them — whether that idea involves removing, recontextualizing, or keeping them. Notably, the survey also presents an opportunity to propose a new idea for a monument.

“Responses will play a critical role in shaping the commission’s work of developing guidelines that can be applied broadly to art on City property, with the ultimate goal of putting forth a thoughtful way to promote more inclusive, welcoming public spaces for all New Yorkers,” Tom Finkelpearl, the city’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, said in a statement.

Finkelpearl is co-charing the commission with President of the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker. Along with 16 other members, the commission will read all received comments as they assess controversial public monuments. The online form, accessible here, will remain open until 11:59pm on November 26.

The commission has not yet announced the specific landmarks and memorials that are under review. One probable candidate is a sidewalk plaque commemorating Nazi collaborator Philippe Pétain in the Canyon of Heroes, which De Blasio himself had previously pledged to remove. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has also called on the mayor to remove the Christopher Columbus monument at Columbus Circle as well as an East Harlem monument to Dr. J. Marion Sims, a doctor who operated on enslaved black women.

As Aaron Short reported for Hyperallergic, two busts of Confederate generals installed at Bronx Community College have already been removed, along with a couple of plaques in Brooklyn that commemorated Robert E. Lee. Outside of New York City, dozens of other symbols have also come down in the last two months — at times under order of local officials, and at times because of public force. Currently, the city of Louisville, Kentucky, too, is calling for comments to help its own commission review local public art that “can be interpreted to be honoring bigotry, racism and/or slavery.”

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