PROVIDENCE — Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, the Department of Art, Culture + Tourism (ACT) and the City Council announced a proposed ordinance to form a Special Committee to Review Commemorative Works. Inspired by recent conversations around the significance of memorials, historical markers and monuments in public spaces, the ordinance—introduced at the November 7, City Council Meeting—builds on policy recommendations brought forth by the Art in City Life Plan: A Public Art Initiative for the City of Providence.
“Given the current national and local conversations around how we reflect on monuments and memorials, this collaborative and creative approach comes at the perfect time for our community,” said Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. “I have always said that any decisions about our neighborhoods should be made by them, our neighbors. This ordinance allows for our community members to come together and think holistically about these installations with experts in the field.”
In April 2018, the City of Providence unveiled the Art in City Life Plan to establish a vision and administrative policies for the City’s public art initiative. As part of that planning process, the plan recommended that the City develop a dedicated public process to address the merit of commemorative works in a rigorous and open manner. Based on this recommendation, the Special Committee for the Review of Commemorative Works was developed. The Department also worked with Emma Boast and students from Brown University’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage to research best practices and develop recommendations about the process.
“The Committee creates a transparent process for our community to determine the social and cultural significance of the people, places and moments that we choose to represent our collective story,” said Stephanie Fortunato, Director of the Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism. “The regular convening also offers a mechanism to come back to these decisions over time and for contemporary communities to reinterpret these narratives to meet their evolving and complex understanding of significance.“
The proposed ordinance establishes a committee comprised of seven members that represent a cross-section of the City’s historians and culture bearers. One member of the advisory committee will be appointed by the City Council, one by the Mayor, one by the Art in City Life Commission. Two members will be appointed on an ad hoc and temporary basis, chosen to provide topic-specific guidance regarding commemorative works presented for evaluation to the committee. The Directors of Art, Culture + Tourism and City Archives will have a nonvoting Ex Officio role supporting the Committee.
“How we tell the history of our city and country is so important in ensuring that neighborhood residents are invested in our community. Our history-telling is an opportunity to celebrate where we’ve been, acknowledge past pain, and commemorate the sacrifice and service of our city’s residents,” said Councilwoman Rachel M. Miller (Ward 13). “I commend the work of Director Fortunato for her thoughtful approach to bringing stakeholders together to collectively advise the City on new and existing memorials and monuments. I look forward to seeing the work that the committee will do on behalf of our residents.”
In addition to responding to requests from community members to evaluate historical works across the City, the special committee will also assess applications by the public for the creation of a new commemorative works or the modification, relocation, or deaccession of an existing commemorative work.
“I think this committee is an important step in looking at our 1000’s of commemorative monuments and memorials that are displayed throughout the City,” stated Councilman James E. Taylor (Ward 8). “Each of our 15 Wards have a distinct and unique history, and there are many monuments that have been long overlooked and this committee, with support from ACT and the City Archives, will be able to have the historical background needed to make informed decisions on the future of current and new works that might be introduced in our City.”
The amendment to the Code of Ordinances will be sent to the Committee on Ordinances before the Council will vote on the matter.