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What Will Chicago Do With Its ‘Problematic’ Monuments? Group Delays Decision, Calls For More Community Meetings

How to handle controversial monuments has been a touchy subject. The committee is meeting with more people this summer before recommending what to do.

The statues of Abraham Lincoln at Senn Park and Christopher Columbus at Grant Park.
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CHICAGO — A city committee is delaying giving recommendations for how Chicago should handle “problematic” monuments, saying it wants more time to talk with residents about the controversial issue.

The Monuments Project advisory committee, which formed in October, planned to give recommendations for dealing with controversial monuments and memorials after June. But its members now want to do more community engagement throughout the summer — and they plan to host in-person events, according to a statement from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

“Since the launch of the Chicago Monuments Project last fall, the project has engaged thousands of individuals through the website and over 40 virtual programs that were hosted by committee members, national experts, and local community organizations,” according to the events department. “The project will extend its community engagement this summer with a series of in-person neighborhood programs. A report summarizing this engagement and the committee’s recommendations is currently being drafted.” 

The extension comes after Chicagoans told the committee they wanted to share their thoughts at in-person events this summer, said committee member Bonnie McDonald, who is also the CEO of Landmarks Illinois.

The committee had been holding virtual events due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the city has since reopened and is allowing events and gatherings.

The committee wants “to ensure we are making this project accessible to more people who might otherwise not participate virtually or send a comment digitally,” McDonald said.

The project started last summer, as controversy flared over how Chicago should handle monuments that honor problematic figures, like colonists and slaveowners — particularly because Chicago has few memorials for women and people of color.

At the time, there were numerous protests over the city’s several Christopher Columbus statues, with some people trying to tear down a statue in Grant Park during a clash with police. There was also a nationwide push to remove or update controversial monuments.

Chicago’s Columbus statues were removed — with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who had supported them, cryptically saying their removal was “temporary” — and the Chicago Monuments Project was created to decide how to handle other memorials.

The goal of the advisory committee is to provide “a vehicle to address the hard truths of Chicago’s racial history, confront the ways in which that history has and has not been memorialized, and develop a framework for marking public space that elevates new ways to memorialize Chicago’s history,” according to its website. 

In February, the Monuments Project released a list of 41 monuments from around Chicago that were identified as needing “further review,” including the statues of Columbus and a monument to Italo Balbo, a fascist politician who served under Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

The members of the committee are now speaking with residents to hear what they think should be done, if anything, about those monuments. Once the engagement process is done, members will give the city non-binding recommendations for how the memorials can be handled.

The Chicago Monuments Project’s engagement events are listed on its website. 

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