Charlottesville’s statue of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is headed to LAXART in Los Angeles for an exhibit that will be installed at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. City Council unanimously voted on the disposition of the statue as part of the consent agenda Monday evening.
According to LAXART’s proposal, the exhibit will include other similar statues, all of which will be exhibited alongside works of contemporary art presented in a manner that will contextualize these monuments socially and historically in order to critique and confront the false narrative and ideology of the Lost Cause. LAXART is reimbursing the city $50,000 for the statue.
At the Dec. 6 meeting, City Council made an eleventh hour decision to give its statue of Robert E. Lee to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which will melt it and transform it into a new piece of public art. However, councilors agreed to delay voting on the other two statues to the last meeting of the year. During the Dec. 6 meeting, councilors voiced support for the LAXART proposal, but as the proposal asked for both the Lee and Jackson statues, the council delayed the vote in order to contact LAXART about whether they would just want the Jackson statue.
According to the proposal, LAXART plans to design a major education component to accompany the exhibit, as well as a scholarly publication and lectures and panel events that will inform visitors about Lost Cause propaganda. The working title of the exhibit is MONUMENTS.
The council was also slated to vote on the disposition of the statue of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Shoshone interpreter Sacajawea on Monday, but chose to delay the vote in light of a miscommunication between the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center and descendants of Sacajawea and members of the Monacan nation.
City councilors have expressed a preference to give the statue to the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center in Darden Towe Park, which is joint property between the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. LCEC has been in consideration by the city for ownership of the statue since before it was removed. Executive Director Alexandria Searls submitted a proposal for recontextualizing the statue that includes bringing awareness to the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.
The statue would be juxtaposed against Native American art and items in the museum’s collection related to the exhibition. Searls has worked with members of the Shoshone tribe for several years to discuss appropriate interpretation of the statue and other representations of Sacajawea.
Rose Ann Abrahamson, a direct descendant of Sacajawea, presented an amendment to the resolution to give the statue to the LCEC on Monday. Abrahamson endorsed the LCEC proposal and city resolution. The amendment was written by Abrahamson and other descendants of Sacajawea, as well as members of the Monacan nation, in order to ensure indigenous people would have control over the presentation of the statue and preserving its heritage.
However, Searls voiced concern at one item in the resolution that required the statue never be sold to anyone.
“We are more than willing to say we’ll never sell the statue for a profit … But as much as we want to work with you and everyone, we can’t agree to what’s essentially a merger and essentially controlling our exhibits,” Searls said. “We really want you to control the exhibit of the statue. We want you to do everything with that. But this seems very far reaching … We want you to have a say on where it goes. But because of our bindings with the IRS and our incorporation, we’d have to make sure that the language was absolutely right and that could take months.”
Searls said she had not seen the resolution until the meeting and she needed more time to research its legality, especially given the land agreement with the county. Abrahamson said she and Walker had tried to contact Searls earlier in the day about it. Searls said LCEC is passionate about having the descendants control the exhibit and provide input, but the major issue with the resolution was what would happen to the statue if LCEC ever dissolved as an organization.
“I really want to have a generational authority in regards to this statue. I want to know where it goes, what happens to it. I don’t think that is so evasive to your program. I think it would be a benefit,” Abrahamson said. “We’ve been talking among our people about making cradle boards, fish squares, beaded items, and doing presentations for you. We were talking about flying over there to talk to you about this and so I’m kind of a little bit shocked at this twist.”
Councilors agreed they felt the two parties needed to work the issues out among themselves before the city could make a formal decision.
“It sounds like everyone wants to work together but there are legal ramifications, there’s other partners involved, including the county and we’re not really in a rush,” said Vice-Mayor Sena Magill. “I think a lot of what [both parties] want is the same thing.”
City Attorney Lisa Robertson advised that if City Council was set on giving the statue to LCEC but did not feel comfortable voting on disposition yet, they could make a decision to decline all proposals for the statue, saying they did not fulfill City Council’s goals, and invite LCEC and Sacajawea’s descendants to submit a new proposal once they had worked together to resolve the issues. The councilors voted unanimously to take that direction.