Community & Arts

Special Committee for the Review of Commemorative Works begins its work

At the next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Friday, February 12 at noon, the committee will be reviewing at least 28 proposals, many having to do with the Christopher Columbus statue on Elmwood Avenue that Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza ordered removed pending a recommendation from the committee.
Photo for Special Committee for the Review of Commemorative Works begins its work

Published on January 16, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Providence’s Special Committee for the Review of Commemorative Works held its first meeting on Friday afternoon. Tasked with reviewing requests for changes to current commemorative works and evaluating proposals for new commemorative works, the first meeting was mostly procedural in nature. The next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Friday, February 12 at noon, should be more interesting as the committee will be reviewing at least 28 proposals, many having to do with the Christopher Columbus statue on Elmwood Avenue that Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza ordered removed pending a recommendation from the committee.

Here’s the video:

For the purposes of the committee, Commemorative Works “are monuments, memorials, markers, and other similar permanent installations, as well as temporary structures, installations, or events, intended to express or reflect the collective memory of an individual, group, or event, and which are accepted by the City and installed or located on City property with City permission.” Excluded from consideration by the committee are works of public art and place/street names. For instance, the committee might take up the Columbus statue, but would not be able to take up Columbus Square, where the statue once resided.

There are five voting members on the seven member committee. These five were appointed by the Art and City Life Commission, the Providence City Council, the City Archivist, the Director of Providence’s Arts, Culture and Tourism Department, and the Mayor of Providence for a three-year term.

Here are the voting members:

  • Ray Rickman (executive director, Stages of Freedom), appointed by the City Archives, who was elected Chair of the Committee;
  • Becci Davis (artist, public humanist), appointed by the Art and City Life Commission, who was elected Vice-Chair of the Committee;
  • April Brown (arts administrator, Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading), appointed by the Providence City Council;
  • Dr Erik Christiansen (public historian, Rhode Island College), appointed by the Arts, Culture and Tourism Department; and
  • Marco McWilliams (public historian, Ph.D. student in Africana Studies), appointed by Mayor Elorza

The two non-voting members are Stephanie Fortunato (Director of the Arts, Culture and Tourism Department) and City Archivist Caleb Horton.

In evaluating a proposed or existing commemorative work, the committee will be working off a rubric, which can be found here. Criteria to be considered include local and community relevance; public life and public space; diversity, equity and inclusion; complexity; and siting, design and conservation.

In addition the the statue of Columbus, other problematic statues and commemorations located in Providence include a statue of slave trader Esek Hopkins, a statue of slave owner Nathaniel Greene, and commemorative works dedicated to racist horror writer HP Lovecraft.

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