Project to Replace Stephen Foster Statue Moves Forward, but Pittsburgh Art Commission Isn’t Sold on the Location
MJ Slaby, The Incline, July 5, 2018
Members of the Pittsburgh Art Commission support adding public art to honor women, especially women of color, but are concerned about doing so at the former site of the Stephen Foster statue.
However, a city task force aiming to do just that stressed it would be meaningful to honor a black woman at that site, and the project has community support.
In some ways, it’s an answer to the hurtful statue and a way to provide a healing solution, Lindsay Powell, assistant chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto and a member of the Task Force on Women in Public Art, told The Incline.
The task force launched a search in March to find a black woman to honor at the site of the Foster statue. The controversial Foster statue was removed from its Oakland location on April 26, following years of debate and months of heightened controversy about the statue. Critics pointed to its offensive and outdated depiction of a black man in tattered clothing seated at the feet of Foster, a Lawrenceville native.
For now, the statue is headed to storage. It’s unclear where its permanent home will be.
The concept is a “tremendous idea,” and women, especially of of color, should be recognized in public art, Andrew Moss, a member of the art commission who was acting chair at that June 27 meeting told The Incline. However, he said the commission’s main concern was the site of the former Stephen Foster statue.
Using that site might take away the significance of the new artwork and make the discussion more about Foster instead of about the new art and who it honors, Moss said. He added that commissioners said there are numerous other sites throughout the city for the statue but didn’t suggest specific sites.
They started with a list of seven women as possible honorees. Per a PowerPoint provided to The Incline, there were 1,200 votes either online or in person. Of those, the top three were:
- Jean Hamilton Walls, the first African-American woman to earn a bachelor’s degree at University of Pittsburgh (312)
- Gwendolyn Elliott, the first black female police commander in Pittsburgh and founder of Gwen’s Girls (197)
- Selma Burke, an artist who was a sculptor-in-residence at the Carnegie Institute and opened neighborhood arts centers (195)
Residents could also make suggestions for women not on the list, and there were 129 of those. The most — 44 — were for Mary Lou Williams, a renowned jazz musician who grew up in East Liberty. After that, no one woman received more than seven suggestions.
Another idea that’s came up repeatedly is honoring a group of women, such as black female jazz musicians from the Hill District, Powell said.