Boston Art Commission (BAC) voted to submit the Christopher Columbus statue for further public review to decide its fate, following a virtual meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The issue will undergo a citywide public engagement process to allow voices on both sides to express their opinions regarding the statue’s future. BAC will also establish a group within the commission that will determine an appropriate review process.
Participants joined the meeting to offer public testimony with some requesting the statue’s restoration and others urging for the BAC to have the statue permanently removed. The meeting ran out of time before all public testimony was taken, prompting the BAC to agree that a continuation of the conversation was necessary.
On June 10th, the Christopher Columbus statue was beheaded, adding to its existing history of vandalism throughout the years. The rest of the body was subsequently removed by the City and placed in storage to await further public discussion about its future.
The Christopher Columbus statue was installed in 1979 without being formally voted on. However, it comes under review by the BAC because it stands on City-owned property.
Groups have organized for both its restoration and permanent removal. Indigenous community representatives are generally arguing for the the statue’s removal and Italian heritage groups (i.e., Sons of Italy) for its restoration. The BAC itself presented a review at the meeting by Erin Genia entitled, Confronting Colonial Myths in Boston’s Public Space.
Diane Modica represented the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in support of the statue’s cultural importance to Italian Americans. However, others spoke of non-Columbus alternatives to represent Italian heritage.
Proponents for the statue’s permanent removal pointed to the Christopher Columbus statue as a symbol of white supremacy and urged that the voices of the indigenous people be elevated in the public review process.
The BAC hearing would appear to directly counter prior remarks by Mayor Walsh and local officials that the North End community lead the process regarding the future of the statue. “The park over in the North End is not a park that just belongs to the North End,” stated one individual, pointing to the thousands of tourists who frequent the waterfront park every year. North End resident Bernie Sapienza spoke in favor of restoring the statue as representing the neighborhood’s Italian-American past.
Resident Patrick Mason, a Native American and member of the Knights of Columbus, testified in favor of restoring the statue and argued that removing it would not help address the issues currently faced by indigenous people. “I’m a Native American advocating to stop going after Columbus,” he stated during the virtual meeting.
Curators have not determined whether the statue’s head can be restored. BAC members agreed that a forum allowing for further discussion and education about the matter should be formed before any decision is made.