The decision over Pittsburgh's Columbus statue adds to a growing list of public artworks being removed for what many see as honoring figures with connections to atrocities like slavery and genocide, two things that have increasingly being recognized as a large part of Columbus' legacy.
The decision comes months after a June petition calling for the statue's removal released, which has generated over 14,000 signatures. Over the summer, the statue also became the target of vandalism.
Since then, the City of Pittsburgh Art Commission, which is responsible for reviewing structures that are erected on or above land owned by the City of Pittsburgh, has held public meetings to decide whether or not to vote on the statue's fate.
All five members, who were appointed by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, voted to remove the statue, which was made by sculptor Frank Vittor and erected in 1958.
The decision reflects the Commission's findings when it asked for input from members of the public. TribLive reporter Tom Davidson tweeted today that “Public opinion favored removal of the statue. The commission received 5,272 responses; 1,937 said it should be removed; 1,818 said no action should be taken; 1,445 said it should be replaced; 65 said it should be altered; and 7 didn’t indicate an action.”
However, media members who attended the meeting have reported that supporters of the statue vowed to take the Commission to court, echoing outcry from residents – many of whom claim Italian heritage – who believe that Columbus stands as a symbol of Italian culture and pride. In an op-ed piece written for the Pittsburgh City Paper, art historian Patrizia Costa examined this connection and argued that the statue should stand as a reminder to think more critically about Columbus and our country's past.
In her recent work “There are Indigenous People in the Present,” CP columnist Tereneh Idia spoke with two local Indeginous women, Alexandria “Clara Kent” Reed and Autumn Marie Chilcote, about the statue. Reed concludes the statue should be removed, while Chilcote says it can stay as long as it does not uphold Columbus as a hero.
“If the citizenry of Pittsburgh wants to keep the Columbus statue, I say fine, and also let’s be transparent about what values are being celebrated with the place of pride of his terrible actions,” says Chilcote, adding, “Can we escalate his history as a fiend, a murderer, rapist, slave-trader, these being actions necessary to uphold American values?”
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has continued to say that his office has the final say on what happens to the statue. Peduto has yet to reach a decision on whether to remove, replace, or let the statue stay. When and if he does, that decision will be subject to another vote by the arts commission.
“Mayor Peduto thanks the Art Commission for their diligence. He will review their recommendation and the testimony from residents, and issue his response soon,”said Peduto's spokesperson Tim McNulty to TribLive.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.