While the new Public Art and Monuments Advisory Committee did not directly weigh in on the debate whether to remove the controversial John Breckinridge Castleman statue in Cherokee Triangle, its seven members stated in a report that monuments and artworks that symbolize racist or bigoted ideology, particularly Confederate statutes, “are not congruent with Louisville’s identity as an inclusive city and have no place in the public sphere.”
The report also states that the subject of a monument should be evaluated on his, her or its principal legacy, not tertiary contributions, noting that a work’s legacy could change over time.
The brief nine-page report released over the weekend identifies criteria for how public art and monuments should be evaluated, including: Is the legacy that the monument represents at odds with current community values? Is it a rallying point for racist groups? Is the history represented by the monument something that most Louisville residents think is fundamental to who Louisvillians are and what they values? Is it physically accessible to the public?
“The principles will guide the administration’s deliberation on whether to alter, to preserve or to remove public art and monuments that may be interpreted as honoring bigotry, racism and/or slavery,” the report states.
In addition, the report pointed to “gaps” in the city’s public display of history and said that in rare cases, the city may erect new monuments, art or historical markers to better represent a more complete nuanced history. Rather than focusing on historical figures, the report states, the city should focus its attention on conserving historic sites.
“One of the problems with monuments to historical figures is that they are not particularly well suited to nuance,” the report states. “A bronze figure towering above a city street gives the impression that the city celebrates the entire life of the figure depicted. But no life is beyond criticism, and some of the most impactful Louisvillians (in terms of our city’s landscape and institutions) are also very controversial figures.”
Removal is the best option when a monument’s message cannot be reconciled with the city’s values, the committee found.
Mayor Greg Fischer is expected to review the report and consider next steps, which could include a decision on whether to leave the Castleman statue in place.
Insider Louisville previously reported that the majority of speakers at a September meeting of the Commission on Public Art believed the Castleman statute should remain because of his positive contributions to the city of Louisville, including the creation of the Olmstead Parks, and his role in the Spanish-American War.
However, the many in favor of tearing down the monument argued that those contributions do not outweigh Castleman’s position as a Confederate Civil War veteran and his support of segregating the parks.