Updated, 5:16 p.m. Oct. 8.
Weeks after the City of Pittsburgh began its review of the Stephen Foster statue in Oakland — which has been called “The Most Racist Statue in America” — it announced residents’ chance to weigh in on the statue’s future.
Dates have been set for two public hearings concerning the embattled memorial. Meanwhile, the collection of public comments on the issue began Friday.
The hearings will take place in October before the City of Pittsburgh Art Commission, according to a release from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office. The details provided are as follows:
The Art Commission will hold a special hearing on the matter on Wednesday, October 4, from 5 to 8 p.m. in the first floor hearing room at 200 Ross Street. After a brief presentation on the statue by City Archivist Nick Hartley, those interested are invited to speak to the Art Commission. A court reporter will be present. No formal Committee action will be taken.
Prior the hearing, and beginning September 8, the Commission will host a comment [form] on its website to collect written testimony of up to 500 words in length. The form will have the options stated under Chapter 175.04 of the City Code — including removal, relocation, or alteration of City-owned art — in order for the public to express their opinion on how the Art Commission should proceed.
Following the October 4 Special Hearing, the Art Commission will hear additional public testimony, prior to taking action on the Statue, at its regularly scheduled Hearing at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, October 25. A summary of comments and a final report on the Statue will be provided followed by final recommendations regarding the statue’s placement.
The review of the statue was initiated prior to the events of Charlottesville, officials said, but ultimately intensified in their wake. The more than 100-year-old statue — which depicts Foster, a native son and famed composer, seated above an African-American slave — has long drawn the ire of residents and students at the adjacent University of Pittsburgh.
In the last month, community members and experts renewed criticism of the artwork and its imagery as offensive and unfit for public display. They did so amid a nationwide purge of Confederate monuments and reevaluations of other monuments and memorials in cities across the U.S. and Pennsylvania.
Supporters of the Foster statue remaining where it is outside the Carnegie Museum of Natural History say the sculpture has been wrongly politicized and misinterpreted, while arguing Foster’s accomplishments deserve public recognition. Mayor Peduto has said he supports the statue being moved to “some sort of educational setting.”
The statue is itself owned by the city and is on city property, and its placement comes under the purview of the Art Commission.
But even removed from the Oakland statue’s imagery, Foster’s legacy — one with a very complicated relationship to African-Americans, African-American music and deep ties to blackface minstrelsy — has become a flashpoint, as proven by the erasure of a Foster mural on private property in Lawrenceville last week.