Boston Art Commission (BAC) hosted a virtual meeting on Tuesday afternoon to continue the discussion regarding the vandalized Christopher Columbus statue. Although Mayor Marty Walsh recently announced the statue would not be returning to its pedestal on the waterfront, the BAC proceedings seemed to indicate that no final decision about the statue’s future has been made.
Verbal public testimony was taken during the meeting. However, participants were advised to only discuss the vandalized Christopher Columbus statue, and no discussion regarding a replacement was fostered, despite the Mayor’s announcement.
“Recommendations that I’ve made were also shared with the Mayor and he had his own independent conversations with members of the North End community,” said BAC Director of Public Art, Karin Goodfellow.
The Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture (MOAC) determined that the statue was too damaged and vulnerable to return to its pedestal. The recommendation was based off of two conservator reports. Both reports found the statue could be repaired, but not without visible evidence of those repairs.
Attempts to mitigate further damage to the statue posed the risk of causing more damage if a solution such as a longer pin were inserted to make removal of the head more difficult. A barrier solution coating could be utilized to protect the statue against paint, but would require constant re-coating to remain effective.
The MOAC recommended that the pedestal remain in place and that interpretive signage be added. It was also suggested that new artwork be commissioned at a later date. To determine the statue’s proper custody, MOAC decided to defer to city corporation counsel.
During the meeting, individuals expressed various stances regarding the Christopher Columbus statue.
Jean-Luc Pierite, President of the Board at the North American Indian Center of Boston, opposed the return of the Christopher Columbus statue and urged the commission to remove the pedestal as well. Pierre Belanger expressed that the statue and pedestal were an inseparable entity. He argued that both be removed and placed on private land.
North End resident Bernie Sapienza expressed confusion, pointing out the Mayor’s previous statements regarding the statue’s fate and questioned if the meeting was intended to involve suggestions for a new statue.
“We’re always open to new artworks in the city and those conversations are not what we’re talking about today, but it could be another conversation for future discussion,” responded Mark Pasnik, Chair of the BAC.
Residents continued to express their concern over removing the Christopher Columbus statue in response to its vandalism.
Laurie Stivaletta, granddaughter of Nicholas Stivaletta whose name is on the Columbus statue’s pedestal, pointed out the importance of the statue to the Italian immigrant community and asked the BAC to consider leaving the statue on the waterfront.
“I am greatly disappointed that an act of violence on our city could change the fabric of our lives,” stated Stivaletta.
Brett Roman, President of the North End/ Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC), requested transparency and clarification regarding the BAC’s next steps following definitive statements made by Mayor Walsh. Goodfellow stated that, if a new artwork were to be commissioned, it would undergo the same community process that all BAC projects undergo through public meetings.