New Orleans is bringing in a nonprofit group to collect public input on what should replace the statue of Robert E. Lee that was removed from Lee Circle last year — a job that is expected to last beyond the two months Mayor Mitch Landrieu has left in office.
The process, funded by a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, will be overseen by the Foundation for Louisiana and Colloqate Design, a firm that has already hosted some meetings around the city about what monuments would better represent New Orleans than the four Jim Crow-era statues that were removed last year.
A separate process could also be put in place to determine what will replace the statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard that formerly stood near the entrance to City Park, though that would be led by the City Park Improvement Association in conjunction with Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell and the next City Council, Landrieu spokesman Tyronne Walker said Wednesday.
Landrieu had promised to gather public input on how to replace the four statues and said the future of the former monuments themselves would be determined by seeking proposals for them from nonprofits and historical groups. But neither of those steps has materialized in the past year.
Walker said the delay was in part a deliberate decision to allow "emotions to cool" and to let residents reflect in the aftermath of the highly contentious removal of the statues.
The flooding last summer that revealed serious weaknesses at the Sewerage & Water Board then consumed the attention of the administration, preventing it from focusing on the fate of the former monument sites, Walker said.
Wednesday’s announcement about the process to be followed comes just two weeks before Landrieu’s book about his decision to remove the statues is slated to go on sale. Titled "In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History," it has earned Landrieu renewed attention from the national media.
Deciding what should be done on and around the now-bare pedestal in Lee Circle is expected to take until the fall. By then, Cantrell and a new City Council will have been in place for months.
Colloqate describes itself as a “multidisciplinary nonprofit design justice practice focused on expanding community access to, and building power through the design of, social, civic and cultural spaces” with a mission to “intentionally organize, advocate and design spaces of racial, social and cultural equity.” It is led by New Orleanians Bryan C. Lee Jr. and Sue Mobley.
The firm kicked off a campaign called Paper Monuments last year in an attempt to start a conversation on what symbols should represent the city in the wake of the monuments’ removal.
It’s not clear when the formal process of gathering community input will start or how it will be carried out. The mayor's statement said Colloqate and the Foundation for Louisiana will provide an update in June and then provide monthly updates after that.
In the lead-up to the statues' dismantling last year, the Landrieu administration used the Foundation for Louisiana to collect donations to help pay for the removal. The nonprofit was used so that donors’ identities could not be revealed through public records requests, something that concerned officials in the wake of threats and harassment of contractors working on the project.
The administration on Wednesday also revealed relatively modest changes in plans for the sites of the monuments. Those plans were first revealed in the immediate aftermath of the statues’ removal.
While discussions about the future of Lee Circle are ongoing, the city will undertake a $121,000 effort to clean up the site. That will include power-washing the column that held the statue, refurbishing the urns that surround it and filling them with plants, and replacing the concrete on the upper deck that surrounds the pedestal, Walker said.
An American flag will be placed at the former site of the monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Jefferson Davis Parkway. Combined with the cost of removing the remains of the pedestal there, that is expected to cost the city about $35,000 and take six to eight weeks, Walker said.
In the short term, the empty pedestal at Beauregard Circle near City Park will be demolished by the City Park Improvement Association and new landscaping will be added to the traffic circle.
The site of the former monument to the White League on Iberville Street behind the Canal Place parking garage will be left empty.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu leaves City Hall in early May, but he'll be logging some serious miles even before then.
Can't see the video below? Click here. (Video from May 2017)
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