Monument to Change
Over the past year, public monuments have been scrutinized and reviewed: What are the roles of these artworks? What relevance do they play in history? In contemporary culture? And, what do they say about the community where they are located? We have seen cities like New York and Louisville, Kentucky develop plans to address some of these questions and watched as others considered the opportunities in developing new monuments to reflect our current culture, like in New Orleans and Philadelphia. Americans for the Arts has been watching the communities across the country reflect on these questions, and released a statement in response to the tragedy this past August in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was sparked in response to the proposed removal of a Confederate sculpture.
On the other hand, Richmond, Virginia has been looking at their monuments and considering what is missing for quite some time. Known for Monument Avenue with larger-than-life statues of Confederate symbols such as Robert E. Lee, Richmond was also home to Maggie L. Walker, a community leader and activist who was the first African-American woman to own a bank. Having had a strong standing in the community during the Jim Crow era, and made an impact on the history of Richmond, Walker deserved her own recognition equal to other monuments in the area. Efforts began nearly two decades ago to honor this community icon in her hometown—a city which also served as the capital of the Confederacy.
As the memorial to Walker was coming together and being readied for installation in 2017, Americans for the Arts was looking to enhance the tools we offer to the field by creating videos exploring the importance and community impact of public art. For the rollout of the Public Art Resource Center—our online suite of tools, resources, and opportunities tailored to the roles and needs in the public art field—we aimed to create three videos: two in short-form that highlighted quick stats and information on public art, and one longer documentary-style video to provide a real world example of an impactful public artwork. With its lengthy, collaborative history and jubilant community celebration at the unveiling, the Maggie L. Walker monument proved to be an ideal subject, and Americans for the Arts was honored to have the opportunity to film and document the story in “A Monument to Maggie.”
Over the next several weeks, we’ll present a series of blogs with perspectives from some of the major players in Richmond who shepherded the Maggie L. Walker monument from idea to reality, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the making of our video. We hope you’ll enjoy learning more of the story behind this inspiring public artwork.