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Cultural Trail leaders cancel plans for controversial statue

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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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  • Snort!
    The whole concept of a "Cultural Trail" is a waste of taxpayers' money... even if it were 100% funded by donors. It's a waste of valuable vehicular rights-of-way in too many places. For example; Fountain Square. I'm waiting for the first major fatality involving its mere presence. Another waste of major proportions is the Georgia Street Project. Half the driveways can't be accessed via left turns (besides the major thoroughfares being labeled No Left Turn), plus the fact that some of the RIGHT turns can't be negotiated by anything larger than a so-called "Smart Car". There's one place in particular that I'm sorely tempted to address with a Sawzall and/or a jackhammer...
  • Cultural Trail
    Devisiveness is rampant and has been made worse by PC. Too many people looking for reasons to be offended. And a large contributor is dividing Americans into groups.

    We all should celebrate our historical cultures but no one should be an African American or an Asian American. We should be Americans pure and simple.

    Perhaps if we could stop talking about our divisive "communities" and be proud to be Americans, we could all get along better.
  • Scorn??
    "... the scorn of national art critics." My recollection is that some or all of the national art personalities that commented were positive about the piece.
  • We look Like Soliders
    Instead images of freed slaves we should rememember the hundreds of african-american who went out to fight to free their brothers and sisters in the south. It is they who should be remembered.

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  1. I took Bruce's comments to highlight a glaring issue when it comes to a state's image, and therefore its overall branding. An example is Michigan vs. Indiana. Michigan has done an excellent job of following through on its branding strategy around "Pure Michigan", even down to the detail of the rest stops. Since a state's branding is often targeted to visitors, it makes sense that rest stops, being that point of first impression, should be significant. It is clear that Indiana doesn't care as much about the impression it gives visitors even though our branding as the Crossroads of America does place importance on travel. Bruce's point is quite logical and accurate.

  2. I appreciated the article. I guess I have become so accustomed to making my "pit stops" at places where I can ALSO get gasoline and something hot to eat, that I hardly even notice public rest stops anymore. That said, I do concur with the rationale that our rest stops (if we are to have them at all) can and should be both fiscally-responsible AND designed to make a positive impression about our state.

  3. I don't know about the rest of you but I only stop at these places for one reason, and it's not to picnic. I move trucks for dealers and have been to rest areas in most all 48 lower states. Some of ours need upgrading no doubt. Many states rest areas are much worse than ours. In the rest area on I-70 just past Richmond truckers have to hike about a quarter of a mile. When I stop I;m generally in a bit of a hurry. Convenience,not beauty, is a primary concern.

  4. Community Hospital is the only system to not have layoffs? That is not true. Because I was one of the people who was laid off from East. And all of the LPN's have been laid off. Just because their layoffs were not announced or done all together does not mean people did not lose their jobs. They cherry-picked people from departments one by one. But you add them all up and it's several hundred. And East has had a dramatic drop I in patient beds from 800 to around 125. I know because I worked there for 30 years.

  5. I have obtained my 6 gallon badge for my donation of A Positive blood. I'm sorry to hear that my donation was nothing but a profit center for the Indiana Blood Center.

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