Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday announced the 16-member committee that will review all "symbols of hate" on city property over the next three months. Announced in the wake of violence waged by white nationalists at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last month, the group is tasked with establishing guidelines for how to assess statues and monuments "seen as oppressive and inconsistent with the values of New York City."
The group will also make specific recommendations for "a select few items," according to City Hall. This number undoubtedly includes the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle, which Mayor de Blasio has refused to take a side on. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has called for the statue to be removed, citing Columbus's legacy as a colonizer, while mayoral challengers Nicole Malliotakis, the GOP frontrunner, and Democratic challenger Sal Albanese have come out in the statue's defense. This week, Malliotakis charged that de Blasio "obviously doesn't have the heart and soul of an Italian."
Mayor de Blasio will make a final decision on each statue and monument. His decisions must get formal approval from the Public Design Commission.
Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, will co-chair the committee alongside Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl. Walker published an essay this week outlining his concerns with the current presidential administration. In it, he urges Americans to acknowledge the enduring legacy of slavery.
"We have failed to reconcile the air-brushed, heroic narrative [of the Confederacy] with the searing reality," he writes. "In this instance, the truth is that the Confederacy was founded—and its soldiers fought—to destroy the United States of America. Their cause was to defend and make permanent the brutal practice of slavery... their aim, to keep millions of black Americans in bondage."
Members of the Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers have been named. Here's who's involved... pic.twitter.com/TMqKUxPEgZ
— Eric Phillips (@EricFPhillips) September 8, 2017
Other committee members include Michael Arad, the architect who designed the World Trade Center Memorial; Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer prize-winning biographer of Jefferson and Jackson; civil rights icon (and singer-songwriter) Harry Belafonte; and a range of artists and academics in fields ranging from history and antiquities to preservation and law.
"I'm confident that this process will produce a conversation capable of examining our public art through the accurate, contextual historical lens that it deserves," Mayor de Blasio stated.
Recommendations will be posted online before the end of the year alongside the mayor's decisions, according to City Hall.