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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed budget for the coming year will include $25 million to transform historical sites, nearly $11 million of which would fund a redesign of Monument Avenue, a boulevard in Richmond notorious for its statues commemorating soldiers of the Confederacy.
In the wake of Black Lives Matter demonstrations over racist violence this year, seven Confederate monuments came down in Richmond, including four on Monument Avenue. A particularly controversial state-owned memorial to Robert E. Lee, which still stands, is slated for removal in 2021. The equestrian bronze has become a symbol of the fight for racial justice after activists spray-painted nearly every inch of its stone pedestal with messages in support of the BLM movement.
Now, Northam hopes to reinvent Monument Avenue by funding public art that tells a more complete and inclusive story of American history. He has asked the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to take the lead. The governor’s proposed budget would enable the museum to hire a dedicated staff and launch a community-driven initiative to research possible artists for the project.
According to the Washington Post, the state is also approaching donors to help fund the initiative, including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which recently launched a $250 million effort to support the creation of new monuments nationwide. (Both the Foundation and the Mellon family have been important supporters of the museum.)
“These investments will help Virginia tell the true story of our past and continue building an inclusive future,” Northam said in a statement. “At a time when this Commonwealth and country are grappling with how to present a complete and more honest picture of our complex history, we must work to enhance public spaces that have long been neglected and shine light on previously untold stories.”
The governor’s proposed $25 million investment also includes $9 million for the development of a Slavery Heritage Site and improvements to the Slave Trail in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom neighborhood and $5 million to repatriate tombstones from the former Columbian Harmony Cemetery, a historic Black cemetery in Washington, DC. The tombstones were removed and scattered along the Potomac River to make way for commercial development projects in the 1960s.
“With the help of this funding, we will be able to return many of these to a better and more respectful resting place while creating a memorial to remember those that we are unable to remove,” said Senator Richard Stuart.
An additional $100,000 in the budge would also support the Virginia Emancipation and Freedom Monument project to create a permanent, 12-foot memorial celebrating the emancipation of slaves in Richmond’s Brown’s Island.