Jan. 10, 2017

Batten to Support Project on Race and Public Spaces

Few institutions and communities in the United States, if any, have ever fully confronted the truths and legacies of colonialism and slavery. These constructs are often visually embedded in public art and spaces, reflecting cultural beliefs, institutionalized policies and practices that devalue African Americans, Native Americans and other people of color.

For those who seek removal or other change, the public art and spaces are painful reminders of the violence and the injustices of colonialism, slavery and Jim Crow. For others, change is challenged as revisionist efforts to rewrite history and an attack on fundamental values. 

While these conflicts may be painful, the attention brought by the many current debates over statues, memorials and named institutions and spaces is an opportunity that may not happen again for decades. This can be a time to reach people who rarely engage in civic action but who are energized by these issues. This also offers a real opportunity to foster candid dialogue and action about deeper, systemic inequities, which tend otherwise to be ignored or suppressed.

The Batten School and UVA School of Architecture are supporting the Institute of Environmental Negotiation (IEN) in initiating a project to develop, enact and share guidance for communities and institutions to address their past through engagement, learning, creativity and consensus building. This effort will include the following elements:

  • convening a diverse national stakeholder group of artists, designers and historians to provide guidance throughout this process; 
  • development of case studies of communities navigating their way through change to public spaces, including New Orleans, Baltimore, Charlottesville and more; 
  • production of a comprehensive guidance document that includes best practices for community consensus building; and
  • testing and implementation of this guidance for collaborative change with experienced partners in key areas of the country.

This effort will kick off at a symposium sponsored by the UVA Center for Cultural Landscapes, to be held in March 2017. Race and Public Space: Commemorative Practice in the American South will investigate the intersections between scholarship and practice around race, memory and commemoration. The event features Dell Upton as a keynote speaker and a half-day workshop program on Saturday with Mabel O. Wilson, Craig Barton, John Mason, and other speakers on contested sites of commemoration in the southeastern United States. The symposium concludes with a site visit to spaces featured in the work of Charlottesville’s recent Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces, including two highly contested statues to Generals Lee and Jackson. This two-day event is sponsored by the UVA School of Architecture Sara Shallenberger Brown Cultural Landscapes and Sites Initiative.