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Art from Lee statue should tell full story, survey respondents say

Tell it like it is.

Bring us together.

Don’t hide the hurt.

And don’t give Lee back to the Confederates.

These were messages to the Swords into Plowshares leaders about what to do with the statue of Robert E. Lee that was removed on July 10, 2021 from downtown Charlottesville.

At a Sunday meeting at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, leaders shared comments from close to 400 people about what kind of art should be created from Lee statue.

The Center has been seeking community input for months about what kind of art should be created. The creation of the new art has been slowed down, however, by a lawsuit that was filed by groups who think the city acted illegally in giving the statue to the Center. As the process has taken longer than the Center originally envisioned, leaders thought an update would be helpful, they said.

The statue was moved on July 10, 2021 to an undisclosed location, where it stood for months as the city sought proposals for what to do with the statue. In December, 2021, the city council voted to donate the statue to the Jefferson Center, which had proposed melting the statue into ingots and creating a new piece of art.

Proponents of the Jefferson Center plan said at the time that they hoped new public art would help to heal long-suppurating racial wounds created by the bronze statue of the general who led the cause to keep slavery.

The lawsuit, filed in April, has delayed the Center’s plans.

Plaintiffs claim that they were shut out of the bidding process. One plaintiff is the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation Inc., dedicated to saving America’s largest all-cavalry Civil War battle site, located about four miles west of Louisa.

A trial is set for Feb. 1.

In the meantime, “we’re still proceeding with engagement,” said Frank Dukes, a distinguished fellow and lecturer with the Institute for Engagement and Negotiation at the University of Virginia who is assisting the Jefferson Center.

“I think it was good to give an update,” Dukes said Sunday evening.

Dukes said he was most excited about the enthusiasm he saw in the responses.

“All but a handful were very supportive,” he said.

Respondents said they want to make sure that the new art tells a more complete racial history. Some stressed that they hope the new creation helps to unify people, while others said they don’t want the new work to promote a sense of false harmony.

Dukes said he was especially impressed with the creativity of people’s ideas. Many said they do not want a monument but interactive art instead. Others suggested several art works placed in different places around the community, “something that you would walk by and have a conversation,” said Dukes.

About 5% of the respondents were under age 10, Dukes said, many likely prompted by teachers to come up with ideas in a class. The largest age group represented was the over-60 crowd, Dukes said. About 13% to 14% were African American, said Dukes.


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