Sunday, August 06, 2006

Statuary Controversy

I couple of days ago I was listening to WTOP News, which like all other radio and TV stations in our area (with the posssible exception of WAMU) rarely if ever, reports on anything dealing with the visual arts, although they do an excellent job delivering free publicity and reports for movies, concerts and theatre. Like nearly all of our main media outlets, WTOP probably believes that their listening public does not care about our area gallery shows as much as they do about who is playing next at Blues Alley.

Anyway, they had a story on a controversy surrounding the Statuary Hall sculpture selection process to add two new sculptures of prominent Washingtonians that could be displayed in the United States Capitol's Statuary Hall, where every state in the Union is represented by two statues of prominent people from the state's past. The District of Columbia is not represented by anyone, and so the DC public was apparently invited to vote as to which prominent Washingtonians should be added to the collection.

Residents cast around 3,000 votes based on the following criteria: "The person must have a record of distinguished service to the city; must be a U.S. citizen; and must be deceased."

Frederick Douglass, the former slave-turned-newspaper publisher received the most votes (311) and musician Duke Ellington (238 votes) came in second. Both men were also on a list of recommendations made by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities steering committee.

This is where the controversy apparently starts.

According to WTOP News:

A selection committee created by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities made their own recommendations, and the commission had the final say in the selection.
Minutes from a May 2006 meeting reveal the commissioners were unanimous in the first choice of Frederick Douglass, the former slave-turned-newspaper publisher.
...the minutes from the May meeting show the commissioners could not decide on the second choice, and delayed the vote for one month.

Prior to adjourning, commissioner Gail Berry West made a motion to add Pierre L'Enfant to the list of finalists.

L'Enfant came in 10th in the public voting, with 107 votes -- well behind Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall and Benjamin Banneker, but 16 votes ahead Mayor Washington.

When the commission reconvened in June, they made a rare move of taking the remaining votes by secret ballot.

Commission Chair Dorothy McSweeny told WTOP she couldn't recall the last time the commission voted in secret, but added she supported the move.

Mayor Tony Williams has said he was "disappointed" with the selection of L'Enfant. In a written statement, Williams' spokesperson Vince Morris tells WTOP:

The mayor has already made it clear that L'Enfant was not his top choice. While it's important for boards and commissions to operate independently, the mayor also likes to see decisions made that reflect popular opinion.

Another problem with the L'Enfant choice is his nationality. One of the requirements to be selected was U.S. citizenship. Technically, the French-born L'Enfant was not a U.S. citizen.
It will be interesting to see which two Washingtonians actually end up in the Hall, and even more interesting to see (in the event that one of them is L'Enfant), what he looks like, since as far as we know, and if I recall correctly, there's some controversy as to what he truly looked like.