The following comments were shared during a press conference held at City Hall on Thursday, October 10, 2019 in response to outrage over the decision by a panel commissioned by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) that disregarded Vinnie Bagwell, the community’s preferred artist to replace the statue of J Marion Sims.
Statement by Diana Ayala, NYC Council – District 8
Good afternoon, all. I am Council Member Diana Ayala, representative of East Harlem/El Barrio. Thank you all for joining us today as we reflect on the artist selection process and call on DCLA to bring further reform to Percent for Art.
First and foremost, I want to extend great thanks to Council Member Inez Barron and her husband, former Council Member and now Assembly Member Charles Barron. They consistently worked to raise awareness about J. Marion Sims’ heinous actions and catalyzed the movement to have his statue removed.
I also want to thank the Beyond Sims Committee – but especially Marina Ortiz of East Harlem Preservation, Ndigo Washington of Council Member Barron’s Office, and Nilsa Orama of Community Board 11 for their fierce advocacy on behalf of East Harlem. They have all worked tirelessly to bring Sims’ statue down and to get us to the moment we are at today, in which there’s a tangible path forward.
I want to congratulate Vinnie Bagwell, the artist who was selected to design a new monument where Sims statue once stood. Vinnie’s piece, “Victory,” is overwhelmingly supported by our community not just because of its elegance – but because of how much it is aligned with our values of resiliency and strength. Her piece beautifully captures the power of Black women and will help our community heal from the presence of a monument representative of racism, sexism, and misogyny.
Unfortunately, as you’ve heard today, our community’s voices were initially ignored by the panel that was convened to recommend an artist. While Percent for Art is a valuable initiative that helps uplift public art, Saturday’s event was a clear example as to why the program must be improved. Both panelists and communities deserve to be better informed about this process in order to avoid another scenario resulting in people feeling betrayed, tricked, and undermined.
As other statues and monuments across the city are being considered through this process, it is my hope that DCLA will reflect on what occurred in East Harlem on Saturday and use these lessons to improve this critical effort. Communities deserve to be equal partners at every stage of the Percent for Art process, which is why I wholeheartedly stand with the Beyond Sims Committee in their demands.
As Vinnie approaches the next steps in bringing her artwork to fruition, DCLA must work to ensure she has all necessary resources and that community involvement continues. East Harlem welcomes her and thanks her for commitment to work alongside us. Thank you.
Statement by Community Board 11 Chair Nilsa Orama
Good Afternoon Everyone,
My name is Nilsa Orama and I am the Chair of Manhattan Community Board 11. Today, I speak as a lifelong resident of East Harlem.
After almost a decade of effort through activism where community voices were heard, we are at a stage where a space that formerly housed J. Marion Sims will be transformed to reflect a different vision.
We are here because of the hard work of the Committee to Remove the Dr. J Marion Sims statue, the vote to remove the J. Marion Sims statue by the New York City Design Commission and the continued work of the Committee to Empower Voices for Health and Equity which ensured that the community could participate in re-imagining the space at 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue.
I want to thank DCLA for reversing their decision and awarding the commission to Vinnie Bagwell and “Victory”. I want to thank Councilwoman Diana Ayala for her community support for this project. This is truly a victory for the community and all those who participated in the process. We would not be here today without community attendance and your voices in support of this statue on October 5.
The work continues; as a community resident and Chair of CB 11, I look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders to offer support and to help ensure that the vision of the space, as laid out by Vinnie Bagwell in her victory presentation and embraced by the community is brought to fruition.
Statement by Todd Fine, President, Washington Street Advocacy Group
“As Percent for Art is used for more and more new monuments that address potent historical themes, some weaknesses have become apparent. We call today for the City Council to advance reform legislation that gives the City some flexibility to tailor selection processes to their specific circumstances.”
Statement by Valerie Jo Bradley, President of Save Harlem Now!
My name is Valerie Jo Bradley and I’m the President of Save Harlem Now. We’re today to celebrate and declare a Victory for East Harlem and our entire community.
We stand united as community leaders, advocates, historians and elected officials to call for reforms of the city’s Percent for Art program, which operates under the Department of Cultural Affairs and the current Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, and to ensure the artist, Vinnie Bagwell, who was selected to design the artwork that will replace the Sims statue in East Harlem, located at 103rd Street and Central Park, will receive the necessary funding, that was allocated and that our voice and ideas will be welcomed and that No surprises will arise as we experienced this past Saturday during the selection process.
We call on the Commissioner to ensure that her statue will be completed by 2021, the deadline that was set by DCLA.
Allow us to offer some context – community leaders and elected officials some of whom you will hear from shortly, engaged in a lengthy battle to have the J Marion Sims statue removed. His presence in a predominately Black and Latino community was problematic and insulting.
Mayor de Blasio formed a commission and this commission recommended that this statue be removed. The process to find a replacement ensued. While a committee was formed, the Committee to Empower Voices for Health and Equity to serve as a bridge between Parks, DCLA and the community, their abilities were limited as there was no budget to assist with outreach. Committee members and community residents also questioned the process as it relates to what impact their voices were in the process, particularly when they completed surveys online and responded to the images of the final artist.
Our community needs to be respected and we it’s time for the healing to begin. We call on City Council to call an oversight hearing on the Percent for Art process; as the city seeks to erect other monuments and artwork throughout our neighborhoods, this current process is broken and needs to be reformed.