Mayor Fischer orders review of public art in search of pieces promoting bigotry, racism

Published: Aug. 14, 2017 at 11:15 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 15, 2017 at 8:14 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has ordered a review of all the public art in the city to identify pieces that could be perceived as promoting bigotry, racism or slavery.

>> FORM: City solicits public comment on art review

The announcement came a day after violent and deadly clashes at a white Nationalist protest in Virginia. It was also made hours after vandals splattered paint on the statue of John Breckinridge Castleman in the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood.

Fischer said the review is a necessary move toward a future that embraces diversity as a strength.

"I recognize that some people say all these monuments should be left alone because they are part of our history," Fischer said in a news release.  "But we need to discuss and interpret our history from multiple perspectives and from different viewpoints. That's why a community conversation is crucial."

Castleman has been long credited for the development of Louisville's beloved parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1891. Prior to serving as President on the city's Board of Park Commissioners, Castleman was an officer in the Confederate Army.  He led violent raids against Union forces before he was captured and sentenced to death for spying.  According to his biography in Wikipedia, Castleman's execution was stayed by President Abraham Lincoln.  He was later pardoned by President Andrew Johnson.

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Louisville's statue of Castleman was erected in 1913.  In 2013, thousands of dollars were spent on a restoration project.

"For many, this statue is a beloved neighborhood landmark, but for others, it's a symbol of a painful, tragic and divisive time in our history -- which gets at the complexity of this conversation," Mayor Fischer said. "I believe this is a community conversation worth having."

Mayor Greg Fischer tasked the city's Commission on Public Art with reviewing all art on public display and scheduling meetings for citizens to comment.  Public Art Commissioner Sarah Lindgren said the city currently has an inventory of 400 pieces of art.  Lindgren could not say how many pieces could be deemed as promoting bigotry, racism or slavery.

"We will set a schedule for meetings for the Commission on Public Art and for the public to have a community conversation," Lindgren said. "We'll have a series of meetings and we will review the inventory, create a list based on the feedback."

Reaching a consensus on why a piece of art might be objectionable is expected to be difficult.  Because, much like art itself, bigotry and racism can be in the eye of the beholder.  Intense emotions in the wake of the violence in Virginia are evident in every stain and splatter of orange paint on the Castleman statue.  While experts figure out how to fix it, the future of the John Breckinridge Castleman statue and other works of public art is unclear, with its meaning and value up for debate.

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