As Chair of the City’s Public Art Advisory Committee, Penny Balkin Bach, the Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Association for Public Art (aPA), provided testimony in July to Philadelphia’s Historical Commission and Art Commission in support of the Mayor’s proposal to remove the Columbus Monument from Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia. On August 12, 2020, the Art Commission approved the removal.
We support this proposal based on the necessary reexamination of symbols of oppression and racism, the ongoing public protest at Marconi Plaza, and our concern for public safety.
Bach and the City’s Public Art Advisory Committee expressed support for the statue’s removal, anticipating that the monument would become a symbol and site for ongoing clashes between opposing groups if it remains in place. The Committee cited recent incidents of vigilante behavior at the monument by those who feel the statue should stay and violent clashes with those who oppose it, which has resulted in assaults, injuries, and an overall unsafe environment.
“We support this proposal based on the necessary reexamination of symbols of oppression and racism, the ongoing public protest at Marconi Plaza, and our concern for public safety,” said Bach in her testimony to the Art Commission. “We commend the City for ‘boxing’ the sculpture, to allow for this public forum and expression of ideas.”
Bach also noted that the monument is not “site-specific” – that is, it stood in Fairmount Park for 100 years after being installed for the 1876 Centennial – and therefore its location is not absolute.
“There are many options that may be considered,” she added. “A monument could be removed, relocated, replaced, stored, donated, explained or reinterpreted. Unfortunately, in this case, we believe that no amount of signage or explanation can create a safe public environment.”
The city’s Historical Commission (voting July 24, 2020) and Art Commission (voting August 12, 2020) both heard public testimony prior to ruling in favor of removing the statue. The Art Commission voted that the sculpture be placed in storage in the interest of public safety. A law firm representing a South Philly neighborhood group has filed a complaint in common please court to challenge the decision. The statue will remain boxed in Marconi Plaza until the courts review all legal documentations surrounding the statue’s removal.