It’s about time: New York City is taking a concrete step to correct the imbalance among city monuments, which overwhelmingly honor the achievements of men, rather than women. First Lady Chirlaine McCray and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen have announced a new effort, She Built NYC, that will commission a new public monument or artwork on city property honoring women’s history in New York.
“This is a first step to creating a public art collection that more accurately represents the diversity of New York City’s history,” McCray said at a press conference, according to the New York Post.
The effort, led by the Department of Cultural Affairs, is kicking off with an open call for nominations, running through August 1. New Yorkers are invited to submit their suggestions on women.nyc of worthy women who are no longer living, as well as groups of women and milestones or significant moments in women’s history from at least 20 years ago.
An advisory panel will create a list of nominees based on submissions, with Cultural Affairs and Percent for Art making the final decision. The honoree and site of the monument will be announced in January 2019.
If the effort is admirable, it’s also long overdue—and many more like it will be required to achieve equality among New York’s male and female monuments. In 2015, Hyperallergic found that there are only five public statues of historic female figures in the entire city (Fearless Girl, for the record, doesn’t count as a monument). In Central Park, where there are 29 statues, not one is of a historical woman; there are only tributes to fictional female characters like Alice in Wonderland. In contrast, Gothamist found nearly 150 historical statues of men. (In November, the Parks Department dedicated a site for future sculptures of suffragette leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony)
She Built NYC follows in the footsteps of the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers. Established last fall, the commission was convened to take a closer look at figures currently honored by the city, with an eye toward removing potentially objectionable statues. The commission ultimately opted to leave all but one of the questionable monuments in place, but add plaques providing additional information about the misdeeds of controversial subjects such as Christopher Columbus. (There are also plans to erect a monument to indigenous peoples to present a counternarrative.)
The only statue that was removed was a Central Park monument to 19-century physician J. Marion Simms, a man once praised as the father of modern gynecology. His medical advances, however, were made in no small part at the expense of the enslaved black women on whom he experimented. That fact led to widespread calls for his statue to be torn down. It is being moved to the site of Simm’s grave in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.
The commission also delivered an official recommendation that the city erect new monuments that honor currently overlooked communities and histories, noting that the current crop of statues does not reflect the rich melting pot that is New York, a metropolis built by people of all races, colors, religions, and sexualities. In an effort to rectify this situation, Cultural Affairs will spend up to $10 million over the next four years on new permanent public monuments.
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