Central Indiana Community Foundation and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Artists and Public Art and Attractions and Cultural Trail

Cultural Trail leaders cancel plans for controversial statue

December 13, 2011

The Central Indiana Community Foundation and Indianapolis Cultural Trail Inc. have pulled the plug on a controversial sculpture depicting a freed slave.

"E Pluribus Unum," proposed by New York artist Fred Wilson, won't be built on the trail, trail founder Brian Payne announced Tuesday. He also is the foundation's CEO.

The decision came after a series of town hall meetings prompted by opposition to Wilson's use of the slave image. Wilson would have used a figure similar to the freed slave depicted on the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, placing him alone holding a colorful flag representing the African diaspora.

Originally, the sculpture was slated for East Washington Street in front of the City-County Building, but Payne changed that plan as controversy swirled around the project. Wilson's proposal, part of the trail’s $2 million public art program, drew opposition from local African-Americans.

"Our intention was to be inclusive and commission artists of color, including Fred Wilson," Payne said in a prepared statement. "Regretfully, this proposed work has inflamed a number of long-standing sensitivities within our African-American community.

"We can now move forward together to create a new public art/memorial project for the Cultural Trail for which we can all be proud—which has always been our intent at CICF."

CICF held seven community meetings, one large town hall discussion and created a website around the project. It spent $75,000 on the design and on coordinating public input.

Now the foundation will put $175,000 toward the creation of the new public art project. A group of community advocates who participated in the discussions about "E Pluribus Unum" will be involved as an advisory panel. Members have not yet been named.

A kickoff meeting will be scheduled in early 2012 and promoted through www.indyculturaltrail.org.

Michael Saahir, a member of the group Citizens Against Slave Image, said the new plan "appears to be promising."

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