Baltimore’s former Christopher Columbus statue in 2017 (Nickel Lietzau/Flickr)

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has allocated $120,000 to repair and restore public statues that have been damaged or vandalized, and create new ones in an effort to “revitalize public interest in American history in advance of the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026.”

The initiative seeks to restore controversial monuments like a Christopher Columbus statue in Baltimore, Maryland, which protesters rolled into a harbor in July in protest of his violent history. Conversely, it supports erecting a new monument for abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York.

These two projects were each awarded an “NEH Chairman’s Grant” of $30,000.  An equal sum was allocated for the restoration of two damaged statues at the Wisconsin State Capitol: one of Hans Christian Heg, a Norwegian immigrant and abolitionist who helped enslaved people escape before serving as a colonel for the Union army in the Civil War; and the statue “Forward,” commemorating women’s suffrage. 

Shortly after the defacement of these two Wisconsin monuments in June, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to prosecute and punish protesters who damage federal monuments. The command reinforces existing federal law, including the Veterans’ Memorials Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003, which imposes a fine and up to 10 years in prison on anyone who damages or destroys a federal monument.

A fourth and final NEH grant of  $30,000 was awarded to the Bronx Community College (BCC) in New York. The funds will support the digitization of archival photographs and materials documenting the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, featuring 98 busts of historical figures in American history in an open-air colonnade on the BCC campus.

“We cannot expect our youth to know about our history if we don’t provide them with educational materials — whether it’s films, books, or statues — to tell them about our history,” said NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede in a statement on October 30. “NEH is pleased to provide funding to help highlight the accomplishments of the many individuals who helped build and shape our exceptional country.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...