City calls for artists to apply for Harriet Tubman statue

Harriet Tubman
Wesley Wofford’s temporary installation was on display at City Hall between January and March of this year.
Metro file

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration on Wednesday issued a call for artists to apply to create a Harriet Tubman statue outside City Hall — the latest step in a stop-and-start process that has faced community criticism.

The city initially awarded a no-bid contract to an out-of-state sculptor, before backtracking and committing to an open call with a wider scope, soliciting ideas on work depicting Tubman or the contribution of another African American figure.

Tubman, known for her role helping enslaved people escape to freedom as part of the Underground Railroad, will ultimately be the subject of the statue.

But members of the Celebrating the Legacy of Nana Harriet Tubman Committee, formed to advocate for the statue, say the process is too tainted to move forward.

“We want a moratorium on the process right now until new oversight is there,” committee leader Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza said in an interview Wednesday. “They have lost the public trust.”

Last week, the committee penned a letter asking the Kenney administration to remove the city’s chief cultural officer, Kelly Lee, and Public Art Director Marguerite Anglin from the process.

Sullivan-Ongoza said she wants to see a new selection committee made up of 50% community members and 50% city officials with knowledge of public art best practices.

A spokesperson for the Kenney administration said the city has “the utmost confidence in” Lee and Anglin and their continued leadership.

As it stands, artists interested in overseeing the $500,000 effort to build a Tubman statue at the northeast corner of City Hall have until Jan. 26 to submit for the first step of a two-part application process.

They will be required to send in their demographic information, resume, examples of prior works and responses to specific questions.

In the open call document, the Kenney administration says priority will be given to artists who “reflect the diversity of Philadelphia,” as well as those who live or work in the city.

Wesley Wofford, a white North Carolina-based artist who created the traveling Tubman statue that sat outside City Hall for three months earlier this year, was initially hired to craft the permanent monument.

However, the city reversed its decision following pushback from community activists and members of City Council.

“Any changes they’re making it’s because the community has been mindful and pushing back,” she said.

In August, officials said the scope of the project would be widened beyond Tubman; though a survey conducted in October found that more than half of the 515 respondents wanted Tubman memorialized – far more than any other historical figure.

After the initial artist applications are reviewed, an advisory committee will select five semi-finalists who will move on to the second part of the bidding process.

They will receive funding to develop a design for the new statue and have to submit it by June 9, according to the Kenney administration. The public will be able to vote on the proposals, and a winner will be picked in September.

Officials anticipate the statue will be fabricated and installed between summer of 2024 and early 2025.

More from our Sister Sites