To the Editor:
What an awesome project that DCASE has initiated for community engagement about our historic public plaques and monuments. (See story on p. 2.) How do these monuments affect diverse Chicagoans? Can we discuss the questions of “who “and “why” and “what” was really happening in Chicago at the time these monuments were placed? Can we discuss the voices who were not heard or the inequities in opportunity that existed at the time the monuments were placed? Can we use this opportunity to educate Chicagoans about the fuller history of the selection and placement of current public monuments and plaques? Can we welcome new art representing those whose voices have historically been unheard and whose art has not been seen? Actively listening to each other and working together we can develop positive solutions to current public monuments, plaques, and art that will inspire us all.
In Jackson Park we have experience in welcoming and utilizing multicultural public art, sculptures, plaques and monuments that are “theme” based and not individual-based. Great examples are Indira Johnson’s "10,000 Ripples Emerging Buddha’s" peace circle at the Iowa Building at 56th Street, and Yoko Ono’s, "Sky Landing" peace sculpture at Wooded Island, and the hopeful "Transformation" — once a dead tree transformed into a beautiful tree sculpture at 59th and Stony Island.
This public art is physically accessible and reflects a multicultural story. It is theme-based, educational, inspirational, and promotes peace and diversity. Public art, like a picture, is worth a thousand words. We utilize our public monuments and art on our JPAC park tours to educate the public about our history. The Frederick Douglass plaque at the Haitian Pavilion allows us to educate the public about the powerful work of Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells. They used their platform at the Haitian Pavilion during the 1893 World's Fair to inform the entire world press about U.S. racism, lynchings, and KKK terrorism, while at the same time publicizing African American leadership, creativity and exceptionalism.
Even the ”The Golden Lady” — The Republic sculpture , whose model was an underpaid female actress — opens the door to educating the public about the 1893 Fair's female wage discrimination, the female sweat shop laborers who made the Fair uniforms and the many innocent young females forced into prostitution at the Fair, as well as the work of Jane Addams rescuing young abused Fair women and publicizing unsafe labor practices. ”The Golden Lady” brings our focus to the hundreds of brave suffragists internationally, women who educated and leafleted the 27 million World’s Fair visitors about the importance of women gaining the right to vote. In Jackson Park we value the public art as a powerful educational tool for telling the fuller history at the time these sculptures were placed in the ground.
I look forward to an open discussion about our historic Chicago public monuments in which we can acknowledge, be accountable, and educate the public about the inequities and stereotypical depictions of some past public plaques and monuments. We should be excited about working together to educate, to develop positive mitigations, and to exhibit new multicultural artists and theme-based public art that will respect and inspire our diverse communities. Now is our time to act!
Louise McCurry, Jackson Park Advisory Council President
Letters from the staff
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