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Chicago’s ‘Problematic’ Statues, Monuments Could Come Down After New Committee Reviews Them

The project will begin with the creation of the advisory committee this month, according to the Mayor's Office.

Crews remove the Christopher Columbus statue from its pedestal the morning of July 24, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The city is starting to catalog monuments and public art and is appointing a committee that will flag pieces that are problematic for possible removal.

The project, announced in a Wednesday press release from the Mayor’s Office, comes just weeks after the city pulled down three statues of Christopher Columbus amid protests over the monuments and violent clashes between police and activists.

The project will begin with the creation of an advisory committee this month, according to the Mayor’s Office. The city aims to have final recommendations for addressing existing and new monuments by the end of the year.

The project will have four objectives, according to the city:

  • Catalog monuments and public art on city or sister agency property.
  • Appoint an advisory committee to determine which pieces warrant attention or action.
  • Make recommendations on any new monuments or public art that could be commissioned.
  • Create a platform for the public to engage in a civic dialogue about Chicago’s history.

The committee will be led by Mark Kelly, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events; Bonnie McDonald, president and CEO of Landmarks Illinois; and Jennifer Scott, the director and chief curator of the Jane Addams Hull House Museum.

Artists, historians and elected officials from throughout the city will serve on the committee, as well, according to the Mayor’s Office. They’ll review the city’s current inventory of public art and “identify and prioritize artworks that may be problematic.”

The committee will make a report that will recommend next steps for monuments, statues and other memorials. It will also make recommendations about how the city can commission monuments moving forward.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot previously said the city needs to better represent women and people of color in its monuments.

Members of the public will have options to weigh in while the advisory committee reviews the artwork, though the city didn’t immediately detail how. The community engagement process will begin this summer and last throughout the fall.

The city will use feedback to make a plan to put up new monuments “that equitably acknowledge Chicago’s shared history,” according to the Mayor’s Office.

The city will also commission and put up temporary artwork that focuses on topics around the coronavirus pandemic, inequality and racial reconciliation, according to the Mayor’s Office. Development for that will begin this summer.

The city’s announcement of its plans came after the removal of three statues of Columbus in late July. The statues are being kept in a storage facility; officials haven’t said what will happen to them, but Lightfoot has said their removal was temporary.

At that time, Lightfoot said the city needed to create a formal process to assess Chicago’s monuments “and develop a framework for creating a public dialogue to determine how we elevate our city’s history and diversity.”

Activists called for the city to remove the statues for years. They’re still demanding the removal of other artistic memorials to problematic figures, like the Balbo Monument, which honors an Italian fascist leader.

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