CHICAGO — The city has unveiled the dozens of monuments it has flagged as potentially problematic — and it’s asking for residents’ feedback on what to do with them.
The city launched its Chicago Monuments Project website on Wednesday. It lists 41 monuments from around Chicago that were identified as needing “further review,” including famous pieces like the Illinois Centennial Monument at the heart of Logan Square and statues of Christopher Columbus and Abraham Lincoln.
The city did not say what will happen to the artwork it has flagged after residents weigh in, though.
The monuments that appear on the site were selected by the Chicago Monuments Project Advisory Committee, according to a Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events news release. The list includes a number of works that have been the subject of controversy, including multiples statues of Columbus and a monument to Italo Balbo, a fascist politician who served under Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Also flagged were statues of a number of presidents — including five of Lincoln, two of George Washington and one of Ulysses S. Grant — and multiple pieces of work that feature Indigenous people.
The site provides historical information about the statues and artwork that are listed, but it does not say why individual pieces were flagged as potentially problematic by members of the committee. But when announcing 41 pieces had been flagged last month, officials said artwork on the list promoted narratives of white supremacy, presented one-sided views of history or presented inaccurate characterizations of Indigenous people, among other things.
Chicagoans can review the artwork through the website and submit feedback on the pieces and how Chicago should memorialize its history. Feedback can be submitted through an online form.
Residents can also register online to participate in discussions where they’ll be able to speak with members of the advisory committee to ask questions and share their thoughts. Each session can have up to 20 participants, with the first “drop-in session” scheduled for 10-11 a.m. Tuesday.
The city is also looking to partner with community organizations to host public conversations about monuments in Chicago.
The city did not say how the feedback will be used in regards to existing monuments. Some have said art that honors racist figures should be removed, but others, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, have been hesitant to commit to taking down such work.
But feedback will be used to “erect a series of new monuments that equitably acknowledge Chicago’s shared history,” according to the city.
As part of that, the city is taking project ideas from artists and community groups as they look to develop monuments. The deadline for submissions is April 1 and applications can be submitted online.
In August, Lightfoot formed the advisory committee to study more than 500 public monuments and memorials to identify problematic artwork and recommend monuments that would honor the city’s historical diversity.
The committee was formed weeks after Lightfoot “temporarily removed” three statues of Columbus, including one in Grant Park that had been the scene of a violent clash between protesters and Chicago police officers.
Jennifer Scott, co-chair of the advisory committee and director of the Jane Addams Hull House Museum, said the monuments and memorials were flagged for meeting one of several criteria:
- Promoting narratives of white supremacy.
- Presenting inaccurate and/or demeaning characterizations of American Indians.
- Memorializing individuals with connections to racist acts, slavery and genocide.
- Presenting selective, over simplified, one-sided views of history.
- Not sufficiently including other stories, in particular those of women, people of color and themes of labor, migration and community building.
- Creating conflict between groups of people who see value in these artworks and those who do not.
Some of the pieces listed on the website have been the subject of criticism for years.
The Columbus statues have been repeatedly defaced, with people saying they should come down permanently because Columbus did not discover America and his actions led to genocide and crimes, including rape and torture, against Indigenous people.
The monuments website also notes one of the pieces that is flagged, the Haymarket Riot Monument/Police Memorial, “has suffered more physical abuse than any other work of public art in Chicago.” The statue, which shows a police officer raising his hand, has been bombed twice and now resides at Chicago Police headquarters, 3510 S. Michigan Ave.
Other monuments, like those to Washington and Lincoln, were long seen as sacrosanct, but they too have come under renewed scrutiny in recent years. Critics have pointed out Washington owned enslaved people and Lincoln — typically seen as a beloved figure in Illinois — espoused white supremacist views.
And Chicagoans have pointed out the city has extremely few monuments to women and people of color.
Chicago Public Schools is leading a separate process to review artwork in district schools.
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