Aug 30, 2022 - News

Philly backpedals on Harriet Tubman statue plans

A statue of Harriet Tubman created by Wesley Wofford, outside of Philadelphia City Hall on Jan. 18.
A statue of Harriet Tubman created by Wesley Wofford, outside of Philadelphia City Hall on Jan. 18, 2022. Photo: Matt Rourke/AP Photo

The city is reversing course on its plans for a permanent Harriet Tubman statue after facing backlash for commissioning the work from a white artist without providing an opportunity for artists of color to be considered.

What's happening: Mayor Jim Kenney and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy announced in a statement Tuesday that the city will now hold an open call for artists for a statue that celebrates Tubman's history "or another African American's contribution to our nation's history."

Catch up fast: A statue of Harriet Tubman by artist Wesley Wofford sat outside City Hall for nearly three months earlier this year as part of a temporary exhibit celebrating the abolitionist's 200th birthday.

  • In March, before the artwork left town for the next leg of its tour, the city announced it had commissioned Wofford to create a permanent statue in Tubman's honor.
  • Shortly after, Black artists and community members criticized the closed selection process.
  • In mid-August, seven City Council members wrote to the Creative Economy Office about the plan for the statue, saying "taxpayer dollars towards Philadelphia's public art should be prioritized with Philadelphia artists," per the Inquirer.

What's ahead: The call for artists will open before year's end, the city says, and an artist and design selected by fall 2023.

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