Where are the preservationists who are supposed to be protecting our history?

With public monuments and statues being torn down at a breakneck pace, there is one group of Americans who have remained relatively silent about this erasure of history.  What makes their silence problematic is that they are actually paid to preserve our history.

I'm talking about historical preservationists, museum curators, and public artists – all of whom usually have a say in whether a piece of public art like a monument or statue stays up or comes down.

The New York Times interviewed several members of this group and found that many believe that the actions taken by cities and towns to take down Confederate statues and monuments were too fast and that there should at least be a debate about the removal of this public art.

Mark Bradford, the renowned Los Angeles artist, says Confederate statues should not be removed unless they are replaced by educational plaques that explain why they were taken away.

For Robin Kirk, a co-director of Duke University's Human Rights Center, the rapid expunging of the statues currently underway needs to be "slower and more deliberative."

And Lonnie G. Bunch III, the director the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, proposes that the dismantled statues be grouped together and contextualized, so people understand what they stood for.

In state after state this week, artists, museum curators, and historic preservationists found themselves grappling with lightning-fast upheaval in a cultural realm – American monuments – where they usually have input and change typically unfolds with care. Many said that even though they fiercely oppose President Trump and his defense of Confederate statues, they saw the removal of the monuments as precipitous and argued that the widening effort to eliminate them could have troubling implications for artistic expression.

"I am loath to erase history," Mr. Bunch said. "For me it's less about whether they come down or not, and more about what the debate is stimulating."

Mr. Bunch should realize there is no debate.  Anyone who questions the actions of those who wish to erase history is branded as a racist and fascist sympathizer.  It's an effective means to shut people up who might object.

"While I am personally in favor of these sculptures' going away, I think it's important to understand that many of these artists did not have a political motivation," Ms. Robbins added. "They had an aesthetic motivation."

Several people in the art world said there is an important distinction to be made between private artworks and public monuments. Unlike artwork made by individual artists, many of the Confederate monuments were supported by city or state governments – sometimes including tax dollars – and placed on public land, suggesting official approval of what the statues stand for.

"The Confederate monuments are meant to convey a message that we value the history of oppression," said Adrienne Edwards, the Walker's visual arts curator at large. ...

"These are statues on pedestals, and when you place something on a pedestal you're putting something in a position to worship it," Mr. David said. "To create a kind of hero worship around the Confederacy and to support state sanctioned white supremacy, it's appropriate to re-examine them and to change their context."

But others argue that removing a statue from its place of origin diminishes the power of its historical significance. "The meanings and the history that we are able to draw from them in a different site, especially a sort of sanitized site like a museum, are not going to be the same," said Michele H. Bogart, a professor at Stony Brook University. "That is a historical loss."

And there are those who warn against rashly removing public art without thoughtful and thorough public discussion. Ms. Kirk of Duke suggested that people in Durham, N.C. – where one statue was pulled down and another was defaced – could brainstorm about monuments that might be substituted for those that were removed.

Calls to blow up Mount Rushmore and remove the Jefferson and Washington Memorials seem ridiculous now.  But how about in five or ten years?  If this rampage against public art and history continues, the forces of ignorance will only get stronger and harder to resist.  So far, they have been extremely effective in silencing those who object to the removal of the statues, equating them with the white supremacists who are most closely associated with saving the monuments.  That's why it's extremely important that the preservationist community step forward to call a halt to this arbitrary and emotional process of wiping history.  Their personal feelings aside, it's time for them to start pointing out what we lose when these statues come down rather than being part of the virtue-signaling from those looking to destroy the culture.

With public monuments and statues being torn down at a breakneck pace, there is one group of Americans who have remained relatively silent about this erasure of history.  What makes their silence problematic is that they are actually paid to preserve our history.

I'm talking about historical preservationists, museum curators, and public artists – all of whom usually have a say in whether a piece of public art like a monument or statue stays up or comes down.

The New York Times interviewed several members of this group and found that many believe that the actions taken by cities and towns to take down Confederate statues and monuments were too fast and that there should at least be a debate about the removal of this public art.

Mark Bradford, the renowned Los Angeles artist, says Confederate statues should not be removed unless they are replaced by educational plaques that explain why they were taken away.

For Robin Kirk, a co-director of Duke University's Human Rights Center, the rapid expunging of the statues currently underway needs to be "slower and more deliberative."

And Lonnie G. Bunch III, the director the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, proposes that the dismantled statues be grouped together and contextualized, so people understand what they stood for.

In state after state this week, artists, museum curators, and historic preservationists found themselves grappling with lightning-fast upheaval in a cultural realm – American monuments – where they usually have input and change typically unfolds with care. Many said that even though they fiercely oppose President Trump and his defense of Confederate statues, they saw the removal of the monuments as precipitous and argued that the widening effort to eliminate them could have troubling implications for artistic expression.

"I am loath to erase history," Mr. Bunch said. "For me it's less about whether they come down or not, and more about what the debate is stimulating."

Mr. Bunch should realize there is no debate.  Anyone who questions the actions of those who wish to erase history is branded as a racist and fascist sympathizer.  It's an effective means to shut people up who might object.

"While I am personally in favor of these sculptures' going away, I think it's important to understand that many of these artists did not have a political motivation," Ms. Robbins added. "They had an aesthetic motivation."

Several people in the art world said there is an important distinction to be made between private artworks and public monuments. Unlike artwork made by individual artists, many of the Confederate monuments were supported by city or state governments – sometimes including tax dollars – and placed on public land, suggesting official approval of what the statues stand for.

"The Confederate monuments are meant to convey a message that we value the history of oppression," said Adrienne Edwards, the Walker's visual arts curator at large. ...

"These are statues on pedestals, and when you place something on a pedestal you're putting something in a position to worship it," Mr. David said. "To create a kind of hero worship around the Confederacy and to support state sanctioned white supremacy, it's appropriate to re-examine them and to change their context."

But others argue that removing a statue from its place of origin diminishes the power of its historical significance. "The meanings and the history that we are able to draw from them in a different site, especially a sort of sanitized site like a museum, are not going to be the same," said Michele H. Bogart, a professor at Stony Brook University. "That is a historical loss."

And there are those who warn against rashly removing public art without thoughtful and thorough public discussion. Ms. Kirk of Duke suggested that people in Durham, N.C. – where one statue was pulled down and another was defaced – could brainstorm about monuments that might be substituted for those that were removed.

Calls to blow up Mount Rushmore and remove the Jefferson and Washington Memorials seem ridiculous now.  But how about in five or ten years?  If this rampage against public art and history continues, the forces of ignorance will only get stronger and harder to resist.  So far, they have been extremely effective in silencing those who object to the removal of the statues, equating them with the white supremacists who are most closely associated with saving the monuments.  That's why it's extremely important that the preservationist community step forward to call a halt to this arbitrary and emotional process of wiping history.  Their personal feelings aside, it's time for them to start pointing out what we lose when these statues come down rather than being part of the virtue-signaling from those looking to destroy the culture.

RECENT VIDEOS