Update, 10:15 p.m.
With calls circulating to remove the Frank Rizzo statue, Mayor Jim Kenney said yesterday “now is the time” to have a discussion about its future. He’ll likely have to do more than back up those words if the statue is to be removed. Any proposal made to remove it, according to the Art Commission, must be put forth by Kenney’s office.
“A sponsor for [removal] would have to come before us, which would presumably be the city,” said Alan Greenberger, chair of the Art Commission and the city’s commerce director under Mayor Michael Nutter. “So there’s a decision to be made not at our level but at the city level — presumably the mayor’s office — to bring a proposal to remove the art.”
The Art Commission, which consists of nine members, has final say over building, moving and removing public art projects in the city. It approved the statue’s placement in the first place. But the Commission doesn’t initiate projects; it makes decisions after proposals from others. Greenberger said a proposal to remove the Rizzo statue, “a piece of public art on public property,” would come from the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. That office is organized within the mayor’s administration.
Margot Berg, public art director for the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy did not respond to a request for comment. Lauren Hitt, communications director for the Mayor’s Office, said the city would be collecting public input before beginning any proposal for the Art Commission and that it would start figuring out how to best seek public input in the coming days.
The Arts Commission hasn’t recently handled anything as controversial as removing the Rizzo statue, but it has dealt with similar public art projects. Earlier this year, the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy proposed the removal of the Chestnut Street bus stations adorned with colored glass panels to make way for new shelters and benches. The Art Commission was skeptical of the plan, and the city withdrew the proposal.
Though it’s up to the Mayor’s Office to ultimately suggest the removal of the Rizzo statue, many conversations will likely be hashed out in private and public before a formal suggestion would be made. Councilwoman Helen Gym has already said she would like to begin discussions when City Council is back in session.
“Certainly in my year and a half running the Commission,” Greenberg said, “we haven’t seen an issue likely to be as controversial as the removal of the Rizzo statue.”