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Museum submits proposal to melt and repurpose Lee statue as new public art

General Lee Statue being removed / Reuters

The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, a non-profit organisation in Charlottesville, Virginia has submitted an offer to Charlottesville City Council to acquire ownership of removed statue of General Robert E Lee.

The Confederate statue was removed on 8 September following years of campaigning. The statue, which was installed on Charlottesville downtown park in 1924, sparked debate in 2016, when a petition and series of public hearings pressured the city council to remove it, which they voted to do in 2017.

Following its removal, the city subsequently solicited full proposals that would specifically re-contextualise the statue along with another of General Thomas Jackson.

The city council has received five proposals with the Jefferson School being the only local entity and one of two Virginia entities that submitted proposals.

Other proposals were submitted by the Ratcliffe Foundation in Russell County, the LAXART museum in Los Angeles, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia and a private citizen in Utopia, Texas.

Melt down the statue

Statue of General Lee covered with protest graffiti

Statue of General Lee covered with protest graffiti

The Jefferson School’s proposal, entitled ‘Swords into Plowshares’ plans to disassemble and melt down the Lee statue, and to commission an artist-in-residence to repurpose the bronze material to create new public art.

Upon completion, resulting works of art would be offered to the city of Charlottesville for public installation.

Dr Andrea Douglas, the Executive Director of Jefferson School’s has made its proposal public and said it intends to invite input from the descendants of enslaved persons.

“Swords into Plowshares community engagement process would begin in 2022, the 120th anniversary of Virginia’s 1902 state constitution which entrenched Jim Crow rule,” she said.

Project driven by community voices

“The project is driven by the voices of our community who were deliberately disenfranchised by this constitution, which was not overturned until the 1970s.”

It has raised $500,000 of what it says is a $1.1m project and its application is supported by a many local, state and national arts and advocacy organisations including The Memory Project of the University of Virginia’s Democracy Initiative, Charlottesville Black Arts Project and the Valentine Museum.

“Our outcomes will not be determined by a single philanthropic voice as was the case when Paul Goodloe McIntire gifted representations of white supremacy to Charlottesville, but rather will represent the desires of an entire community for values-driven, socially just objects in our public spaces.

Impacting history

“Swords into Plowshares is Charlottesville’s opportunity to lead by creating a road map that can be followed by other communities that wish to impact history.

“It’s our hope that our entire community will embrace this defining moment. The Jefferson School has been at the centre of many of our city’s conversations about race. These many experiences have positioned it, along with its partners in the process, to be able to deliver meaningful outcomes.”

The city is expected to decide on the statue’s future on 13 January 2022.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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