Philadelphia city officials are building a Harriet Tubman monument, but the project is under fire for a selection process that allegedly excluded Black artists.
Weasly Woodford (who is white) was awarded $500,000 to sculptor to make a statue in honor of Tubman, an abolitionist who led enslaved Black people to freedom using the Underground Railroad.
Woodford designed the traveling statue Harriet Tubman: The Journey to Freedom, which was on display in front of Philadelphia City Hall earlier this year. Apparently, the city commissioned the statue without welcoming proposals from any other artists.
In June, a public forum was held on June 15 where ideas for the statue were supposed to be addressed. However, artists showed up at the meeting displeased and talked about the necessity of diverse representation.
Dee Jones, a textile artist, told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “As an artist, it’s hurtful and it is traumatizing. If it was an open call and Wesley was chosen, it would be fine. But because the process wasn’t open, that’s the big issue.”
Another artist, Ogundipe Fayomi, said at the meeting: “It undermines our vision, our hope, desires, our creativity. I can go on and on. We have to show that we can do things, rather than showing other people can do things for us.”
Kelly Lee, the chief cultural officer for Philadelphia and the executive director of the Office of Art, Culture and the Creative Economy, explained to the Inquirer that the meeting felt “visceral.” She said that people loved Woodford’s traveling statue and was surprised by the backlash.
“When people saw it, they didn’t focus on who the artist was,” Lee said. “That statue resonated so deeply. People said it captured her spirit. It captured her essence. I saw people crying when it first arrived and I saw them crying when it was time for it to leave.”
It’ll be interesting to see how the city responds to the criticism.