Oct 31, 2023 - News

Philadelphia picks design for new Harriet Tubman statue

Images: Courtesy of Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy

The city selected a winning design Monday for the new Harriet Tubman statue at Philadelphia's City Hall.

Why it matters: The statue will be the first of a historic Black woman figure in the city's vast public art collection.

Driving the news: Alvin Pettit's design — A Higher Power: The Call of a Freedom Fighter — will be placed at the northeast apron of City Hall.

  • The African American Historic Statue Advisory Committee considered five semifinalist designs, though one artist later dropped out.
  • The statue was commissioned for $500,000.

Flashback: Public calls for a permanent Tubman installation grew last year after a traveling statue of the famed abolitionist was placed outside City Hall in early 2022.

  • Controversy erupted after the city commissioned a permanent Tubman statue from a white artist without offering other artists, including artists of color, to be considered.
  • The city reversed course and held an open call for designs last year.

By the numbers: Nearly 3,000 responses were submitted to the city's online survey on the design selection.

Details: The statue will be 13.5 feet tall and depict Tubman in a prayer-like position with clenched fists in an oversized jacket and with a rifle on her back.

  • At her feet will be broken shackles and a Confederate flag.
Renderings of Alvin Pettit's design of a Harriet Tubman statue — “A Higher Power: The Call of a Freedom Fighter” —
Renderings of the statue in front of City Hall.

What they're saying: The design flips the typical historic narrative on Tubman — who is commonly depicted on the run — by showing her as a conqueror, Pettit said during a news conference Monday.

  • "This woman was also a soldier, a scout, a Union spy, a military strategist and a war hero," he said.
  • Mayor Jim Kenney added that Pettit's design "depicts Harriet Tubman's likeness, evokes her power and reminds us of her leadership — because Harriet Tubman was badass."

What's next: Installation of the statue begins between the summer of 2024 and early 2025, per the city's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy.


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