There’s been a lot of debate regarding the proposed location of a Maggie L.
There’s been a lot of debate regarding the proposed location of a Maggie L. Walker Commemoration, and the bulk of that debate is centered around whether or not it would uproot a tree (top image) located at the intersection of N Adams St, Brook Rd, and W Broad St.
Last night the RVA Public Arts Commission held a community meeting attended by more than 200 people to discuss the plaza design, and find out how the tree would affect it.
The proposed artist who will do the statue, Toby Mendez, was also introduced to the crowd.
The whole tree debacle began at the end of November with the creation of a petition called “Woodman, Spare That Tree!,” which called for the Richmond Planning Commission to leave the tree alone. It has since garnered almost 1500 signatures.
This has proven to be a polarizing issue with many Jackson Ward and Richmond residents, who cite the importance of honoring Maggie Walker as greater than saving a tree.
Both sides were represented in last night’s unusually well-attended meeting, which even saw attendance from Mayor Jones.
The meeting began with Jones speaking on the importance of Walker’s life in the city, and the value of symbols that show different sides of Richmond history.
“We’re here tonight in the aftermath of a national discourse that has centered on symbols and flags and buildings. I was in South Carolina a couple of weeks ago and went by the state capitol and the [Confederate] flag no longer flies there,” said Jones. “Since Charleston there has been an honest effort, I believe, to have a discourse about what to do with buildings, and flags, and symbols. And all of us in here, and we’re not fooled by the fact that it’s a difficult discourse to have. Particularly in the City of Richmond we have been unable to have that honest conversation for a long long time. But one thing is clear: in Richmond only one side of the story is being told.”
Mendez, the artist selected to design the plaza, spoke soon afterward on his vision for the project and what elicited his interest.
“When I was being interviewed for this project one of the things I was asked was ‘Why do you want to do the Walker monument?’ and as an artist you want to do things that mean something and have a legacy to it,” said Mendez. “The first thing I’m going to do when I’m designing this piece is listen. It’s going to be in my style, but it’s your voice. And this voice is going to speak not for 100 years, but for hundreds of years.”
Mendez’s previous works includes more than 30 sculptures scattered across the nation, including monuments to Thurgood Marshall, Mohandas Gandhi, and Major Taylor.
John Carty, civil engineer on the project and PE at VHB spoke next, highlighted the limitations of the space.
A small portion of Brook Rd will have to be closed along the east side of the park, eliminating four parking spots, however Carty said they would likely be able to minimize the loss by adding parking along Adams St. just past where the memorial would be. It’s also worth noting that, of these four spots, at least two are regularly treated as valet spots for the restaurant Max’s On Broad.
Also, according to Carty, due to sewer systems and electrical lines the bulk of the monument would need to sit in the same location as the currently existing tree, which was planted in 1989.
On the subject of the tree Mendez said, “Tree, no tree–that’s really up to you guys. I can design either way, I think either way will be successful. If the tree goes away we’re still going to have to have some small trees on the site. I think whether we design this with or without the tree the first thing people are going to look at is Maggie Walker, I’ll make sure of that.”
At the beginning of the meeting approximately 200 Responsecard clickers were handed out to help gather information on the crowd and their opinions on the plaza.
Interestingly, nearly 30% of the crowd claimed to live outside of Richmond, and a similar percentage claimed to reside within Jackson Ward. The majority of the crowd also supported closing Brook Rd.
Towards the end of the polling the crowd was asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, how they rated the importance of keeping the existing oak tree, with 1 meaning “The tree detracts from the space and must go” and 10 meaning “The tree makes the space and must stay”.
Interestingly, 42% of the voters rated the trees importance as a 1, while a smaller 33% voted the importance a 10, with the rest of the votes being scattered.
No finalized plans for the space have been created yet, and the RVA Public Art Commission Promises to keep the public and interested parties up to date. The slides from the meeting as well as the results from the polling should be available within the next couple of days.
Stay tuned for more information on the project as it develops.