Columbus statues should be taken down, according to a report on Chicago’s monuments, and signs should be made that describe the city’s “real and entire history”

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Columbus statues should be taken down, according to a report on Chicago's monuments, and signs should be made that describe the city's "real and entire history"

Source : AUN News

The “Chicago Monuments Project: Recommendations for the Current & Future Collection” report, which was released on August 19th, compiles conclusions from a process that lasted almost two years and was meant to address local monuments that are problematic or provide an incomplete history of Chicago or the United States. The 73-page paper also suggests subsequent actions for reviewed works, such as their removal or modification—for example, by adding signage or a specially commissioned piece of art.

Out of the more than 500 items that fall within the purview of the Chicago Park District (Parks) and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, a group of community leaders, artists, architects, curators, academics, and city officials selected 41 as being worth discussion (DCASE). The majority were produced between 1893 and the late 1930s, and the items range from sculptures that support stereotypes of Native Americans to a bridge plaque honouring the “first white child” of the city.

The evaluation is a first of its sort in a significant US metropolis. Following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that spring, which intensified national discussions about memorial public works, from Confederate-era monuments to statues that glorify colonialism and ignore the existence of Native Americans, Mayor Lori Lightfoot made the announcement in 2020. Major demonstrations broke out in Chicago over a monument commemorating Christopher Columbus, whose presence in the Americas resulted in slavery and genocide. All three of the city’s sculptures honouring Christopher Columbus were temporarily removed in July 2020, and they have been stored ever since.

Chicago World’s Fair

In the paper, it is stated that “many of Chicago’s monuments were built on mythology of the city’s founding that pitted white explorers, missionaries, troops, and settlers against the Indigenous tribes and countries of the region.” Additionally, “[their] sponsors contributed to the spread of idealised depictions of American statesmen and military heroes.” According to the report, “The Chicago Monuments Project (CMP) provided a vehicle to address the hard truths of Chicago’s racial history, confronted the ways in which that history has, and has not, been memorialised, and developed a framework that elevates new ways to memorialise Chicago’s true and complete history.”

The conclusions are based on public feedback that the committee collected during 2021 from thousands of Chicago residents via surveys, in-person meetings, letters, and emails. The Grant Park Columbus monument, which was constructed for the 1933 Century of Progress Chicago World’s Fair and largely funded by the city’s Italian American community, was the monument deemed to be the most problematic; 87% of respondents deemed it to be “Highly problematic/offensive,” and 75% agreed that it should be demolished. The committee advises that all three of the statues of Christopher Columbus be removed permanently.

Respondents also demanded that The Defense, a relief on the DuSable Bridge that depicts a bloody clash between European soldiers and American Indians, be taken down. More over half of respondents (56%) thought the portrayal of Native Americans was degrading and said that it should be removed. One person said, “On this relief there is literally a dead Native person shown.” If it were any other racial or ethnic group, I can’t think that we as a culture would be okay with something like this.

The mansion where Ellen Marion Kinzie, referred to on the sign as the city’s “first white kid,” was born in 1805 is also remembered on the bridge with a plaque. The report adds that the marker should be stored and a new sign should be commissioned to “tell a more accurate and inclusive story about Chicago’s founding.” The report claims that the marker “openly prioritises whiteness and denies the existence of Native peoples, and earlier settler Jean Baptiste Point du Sable.”

The committee has issued an open call for proposals that rethink the significance and function of public monuments in order to further correct the city’s memorial landscape, which the report claims does not sufficiently include other stories, including those of women and people of colour, as well as themes of labour, migration, and community building. DCASE has also given $50,000 funding to eight new temporary or permanent works to get things started. These include a memorial created by the local community in honour of Chicago gun violence victims, a memorial honouring du Sable and Kitihawa, a local Potawatomi woman who was his wife, and a public art installation honouring the 1919 Chicago Race Riot.

According to a press release from the project’s co-chairmen, Peter Cole and Franklin Cosey-Gay, “Launched on the 100th anniversary of the riot, our public art project aims to ignite conversations about past and present racism in Chicago and across the US by creating and installing commemorative markers at each of the 38 locations where someone was killed in 1919.” Our public art project, along with the linked educational work we conduct, “hopes to elevate this past that has been far too long overlooked.”

The committee’s recommendations, which include additional signage being added to all works that are publicly installed during this protracted assessment process, will be implemented by the City. According to DCASE commissioner Erin Harkey, these proposals “are not the final word on the complicated, constantly changing problems relating to justice, public space, and our common heritage.” “The CMP does not intend for the suggested interventions to prohibit future efforts that could improve or broaden the narratives in our public places. In an honest and sincere endeavour to create the more diverse and representative public art collection that this city and its citizens deserve, we will continue to interact with Chicago residents.

Analysis by : Advocacy Unified Network

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