Hundreds of public monuments have come down during the social and racial reckoning currently sweeping our country. And while Seattle has not been at the epicenter of the furor over public monuments, there have been heated discussions over the monument to Confederate soldiers in a Capitol Hill cemetery and a statue of Vladimir Lenin in Fremont.
In the United States, the issue of what to do with public monuments has been very polarizing. Why do we care so much about these statues? In her book Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America’s Public Monuments, professor of art crime Erin L. Thompson looks at the turbulent history of American monuments and its abundant ironies — including the enslaved man who helped make the Statue of Freedom that tops the United States Capitol. Monuments have come to mean many things to different people, and the battles over them are a tangle of aesthetic, legal, political, and social issues.
Ultimately, monuments symbolize what we value and keeping them up or removing them sends a message. How do we decide who and what should be represented with new monuments? Which existing statues should stay up, and which should come down? Who should make these decisions — and how should they decide?
Erin L. Thompson, holds a Ph.D. and a J.D. and is a professor of art crime at the City University of New York. In addition to Smashing Statues, she is the author of Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors from Antiquity to the Present, and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Smithsonian magazine, and Art in America. She lives in New York.
Sarah Mirk is a comics journalist, teacher, and editor. A former reporter for The Stranger and the Portland Mercury, she is now a contributing editor at comics publication The Nib and a digital producer at The Center for Investigative Reporting. She is the author of several books, including Guantanamo Voices: True Stories from the World’s Most Infamous Prison, which The New York Times named one of the 10 best graphic novels of 2020.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle.