City Announces Community Coalition and Upcoming Program in Next Steps Toward Commissioning New Public Artwork in East Harlem
The new artwork will address the legacy of J. Marion Sims, whose statue formerly occupied the pedestal at 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue. The first in a series of community conversations is scheduled for October 20 at the New York Academy of Medicine
New York – The City today announced that it has joined a community coalition dedicated to expanding representation through public artwork in East Harlem to explore the legacy of racism and inequities in reproductive justice in the medical community. Comprised of East Harlem advocacy groups, cultural organizations, City Council and Community Board representatives, and City agencies, the Committee to Empower Voices for Healing and Equity will work towards the goal of commissioning new permanent public artwork for the former site of a statue honoring J. Marion Sims that sat in Central Park for decades, and was removed in April 2018. The current goal is to install the new permanent public artwork by December 2020.
This follows the Mayor’s decision to remove the statue of J. Marion Sims earlier this year, building on recommendations of the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers and years of community activism. In addition to the removal of the existing statue, which took place in April, the City committed to working with local stakeholders to commission a new artwork for the site that addresses Sims’ legacy of medical experimentation on women of color.
Representatives of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), and NYC Parks are joined on the committee by local representatives including:
- East Harlem Preservation
- Community Board 11
- Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100)
- Coalition to Remove the Dr. J. Marion Sims Statue
- Council Member Inez Barron
- Council Member Diana Ayala
- District Leader Cordell Cleare
- El Museo del Barrio
- The New York Academy of Medicine
- Harlem Birth Action Committee
- Museum of the City of New York
“Earlier this year, the City took a major step toward fostering more welcoming, open, and inclusive public realm when it removed the statue of J. Marion Sims, following the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, and years of community advocacy,” said NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl. “Now, we’re ready to begin the next phase. Public art not only enlivens our civic spaces, it reflects our values and gives us rare opportunities to come together and reflect on what is most important to us, and what we want to say to future generations. These public conversations – organized by a community committee and guided by artist Ebony Noelle Golden, Black Gotham Experience, and American Slavery Project – will help us to unpack a troubling legacy and envision a future beyond Sims for East Harlem, women of color, and all NYC residents.”
“We are looking forward to hearing directly from the community on what they’d like to see in a monument for Central Park,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP. “The magnitude of this site, and the rarity of erecting a new monument in a park make this a crucial moment in the history of our city. We hope this task force can help foster open communication between New Yorkers and the artist who is ultimately selected, and Parks is honored to be a part of the process.”
“New York City took a meaningful stand when it removed the statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims,” said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “We are proud to join the advocates, community organizations and our fellow City agencies in thoughtful discussions on the creation of a new public artwork, one which honors Lucy, Betsey and Anarcha and the many Black women who suffered as a result of his experimental surgeries. We must not forget the pain Dr. Sims inflicted on women of color and the legacy of injustice in women’s health he left behind.”
“I am glad to see that the East Harlem community will lead the way forward as New York City decides what to do with the former site of a statue that was offensive and failed to represent its neighborhood,” said Speaker Corey Johnson. “The tireless work of residents, activists, and community leaders got us to this point where we can now work together to create a monument that reflects the diversity and storied heritage of the neighborhood. I look forward to working with East Harlem residents, advocacy groups, community partners, and my colleagues in government to commission a replacement that will make East Harlem proud.”
“The Marion J. Sims statue’s removal was a momentous victory for this community and we are honored to be continuing this conversation with residents and community stakeholders,” said Council Member Diana Ayala. “If previous calls to have the statue removed have taught us anything, it is that the creation of a replacement must include direct community input. We are excited to join our fellow committee members for this discussion as we work toward healing and progress for our residents and women of color everywhere.”
Council Member Inez Barron said, “I appreciate the work of my husband, State Assembly Member Charles Barron and his Chief of Staff, Viola Plummer in bringing attention to this issue, while they were here at City Council. The decision of the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers to recommend that the Dr. J. Marion Sims statue be removed, was a reflection of the sentiments of the community, particularly East Harlem residents, who were offended by the tribute given to him. Dr. J. Marion Sims was a doctor who tortured African American enslaved women by conducting experiments on them without the benefit of anesthesia and who acted unethically by conducting surgeries without their consent. As history has dictated and present day issues indicate, the need for black women to demand control over our bodies is evident now more than ever. It’s important that we continue to ensure the voices of the Harlem community are solicited, valued and are an integral part of the process that will select an artist, who will create the artwork to replace Dr. J. Marion Sims’ statue”.
“The J. Marion Sims statue was a controversial symbol that represented a legacy of hate and oppression and served as a reminder of racism and his treatment of African-American women and what they endured,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13). “As our community moves forward, it remains vital that we continue to share our stories in ways that allow individuals to thrive while promoting activism, diversity and inclusion for all communities of color. I commend the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs on this initiative and look forward to viewing the artwork and public installation that will reflect on our nation’s history and continue to inspire our discussions on how we best move forward to heal as a nation.”
“We are honored to join our fellow committee partners in engaging the public about the concept and creation of a statue to replace the one of J. Marion Sims that was removed earlier this year. It is important for us, not only because of the Museum’s close proximity to the statue’s location, but because we are part of the East Harlem community,” said Whitney W. Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director & President of the Museum of the City of New York. “And as historians and interpreters of the city’s past, present, and future, we look forward to this collaboration to help empower the city’s residents to have a voice in the creation of a new monument that will be inspirational to East Harlem, all New Yorkers, and all visitors to our city.”
“Monuments not only signify specific histories, but they structure our everyday physical, emotional and social experience of place and identity. As an institution created by and for the community, it is important for local voices to be a part of this cultural narrative” said Patrick Charpenel, Executive Director, El Museo del Barrio. “El Museo del Barrio, along with our partners in elected office, city agencies, and local arts and advocacy groups, applaud the community-centric efforts towards creating a new public monument that more accurately reflects the values of our diverse and inclusive city.”
“East Harlem Preservation welcomes the opportunity to continue the dialogue on racism and violence against women of color that we helped initiate. We congratulate everyone involved in the historic campaign to remove the Sims statue and hope our neighbors join us in calling for a new artistic vision that honors women of color in medicine,” said Marina Ortiz.
In addition to commissioning this new public artwork, the committee is dedicated to fostering public discussions and informing the community about the process and facilitating public engagement activities to ensure that the voices of local stakeholders are included in the process. To that end, a number of community conversations will be scheduled. The first event, Beyond Sims: Community Conversation, will be held on Saturday October 20th, 2018 from 1-3:30pm at The New York Academy of Medicine located at 1216 Fifth Ave (at 103rd Street), New York, NY 10029. This event will provide residents and participants an opportunity to envision a future beyond the painful legacy of Sims. All input from this conversation will be provided to the artist (yet to be selected) to help inspire their artwork at the former site of Sims. There will be a performance by American Slavery Project, a presentation by Black Gotham Experience, and a facilitated conversation led by artist Ebony Noelle Golden. The event is open to the public.
This process and community input will inform DCLA’s Percent for Art process, which is being used to commission the permanent artwork. Percent for Art utilizes a community-centered panel process to select artists, who in turn work with residents as they refine their designs and proposals. An artist for this commission will be selected in early 2019.