De Blasio Names Members Of Commission That Will Review Statues, Plaques Across NYC

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – We now know who will help decide the fate of the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle.

Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed the names of the members of the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers.

The group will offer opinions on issues surrounding public art, monuments and markers on city-owned property.

The commission was announced in the wake of violence in Charlottesville following the decision to remove statues of Confederate generals.

During this week’s debate with Democratic primary rival Sal Albanese, Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to say whether he thinks the statue of Christopher Columbus should stay or be removed, instead saying he’s interested in what the commission finds.

“I think the right way to handle all the issues that have been brought up is it to have a commission that looks at all of these matters; comes up with, as best as possible, a universal standard for how we move going forward,” de Blasio said during the debate.

Albanese said he thinks the statue should remain, as does Republican candidate for mayor Nicole Malliotakis.

In announcing the commission today, de Blasio said the discussion about monuments and markers is “an important conversation.”

De Blasio said the commission will create “a thoughtful set of guidelines that acknowledge the complexities of history.”

“The commission will also make specific recommendations for a select few monuments and markers that have prompted understandably passionate public discourse,” de Blasio said. “I’m confident that this process will produce a conversation capable of examining our public art through the accurate, contextual historical lens that it deserves.”

Among the members of the commission are John Calvelli of the National Italian American Foundation, and Columbia professor and Mohawk Indian Anthropologist Audra Simpson who grew up on the Kahnawake reservation in Quebec.

Vanderbilt Professor and author Jon Meacham is on the commission as well.

He wrote a recent op-ed arguing for tearing down confederate statues, but keeping monuments to men like Washington, Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.

“Each owned slaves,” he said, “Each was largely a creature of his time and place on matters of race.”

Republican mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis was highly critical of de Blasio’s commission, saying it wasn’t needed and probably shouldn’t exist.

“For over a century New Yorkers have lived with many of the statues that grace our city,” she said, “They only have become an issue because Bill de Blasio chose to make them one. Creating divisive issues is wrong; it’s bad for the city and its citizens.”

The commission will issue its recommendations by the end of the year.

The members of the commission are:

Co-Chairs

Darren Walker             President of the Ford Foundation; longtime leader in nonprofit and philanthropic sectors

Tom Finkelpearl           Commissioner, Department of Cultural Affairs 

Commission Members

Richard Alba                Distinguished Professor at CUNY Graduate Center; former vice president of the American Sociological Association

Michael Arad                Architect; designer of the World Trade Center Memorial

Harry Belafonte           Singer; songwriter; actor; and civil rights activist

John Calvelli                 Executive Vice President for Public Affairs of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Vice Chair of International Affairs at the National Italian American Foundation

Mary Schmidt Campbell      President of Spelman College; former vice-chair of President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities

Gonzalo Casals             Director of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art; adjunct faculty at CUNY Hunter College in arts administration

Teresita Fernandez      Visual artist with experience in public art; MacArthur Fellow

Amy Freitag                  Executive Director of the JM Kaplan Fund; former Executive Director at New York Restoration Project

Catie Marron                Editor of books on urban parks and public spaces; chair of the board of Friends of the High Line; trustee of the New York Public Library

Jon Meacham               Vanderbilt professor; Pulitzer prize-winning biographer of Jefferson and Jackson

Pepón Osorio                Visual artist with experience in public art; MacArthur Fellow

Harriet Senie                 Public art scholar; author; professor of art history and director of the Art History program and Art Museum Studies at City College of New York

Shahzia Sikander         Visual artist with experience in public art; MacArthur Fellow

Audra Simpson            Mohawk anthropologist; Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University

John Kuo Wei Tchen    Historian of Chinese Americans in New York City; Associate Professor at New York University

Mabel Wilson                Architect; scholar of race, memory, and urbanism; Associate Professor at Columbia University

Ex-Officio City Agencies          Public Design Commission, Law, Education, and Parks

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