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'Dear Castleman': Monuments Committee Launches Letter-Writing Campaign

The Castleman Statue
February 2018 vandalism.

Since the controversial John Breckinridge Castleman statue was first vandalized in August, Louisville Metro Government has sought public comment on its public artwork and monuments.

But on Tuesday, Louisville Metro announced details of a new opportunity for residents to provide input on monuments in public spaces: an online letter-writing campaign.

In a release, Louisville Metro provided a template:

“Dear ________ (Monument),

I feel ________, because ___________________.”

And two example letters:

“Dear Castleman, I feel you should go, because your actions do not represent my values or the values of our city in 2018,” and “Dear Castleman, I feel you should stay, because you represent the history of our parks system.”

Letter-writers can share their thoughts with the hashtag #monumentalletters, send them directly to Develop Louisville’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, or send letters through postal mail.

It might be easy to dismiss this initiative as just another step in what has already been a lengthy deliberation process regarding the city’s public art. Since August, Mayor Greg Fischer has directed the Commission on Public Art to hold a forum during which the public could speak about whether any works “honored bigotry, racism and/or slavery” and then established the Public Arts and Monuments Advisory Committee to provide recommendations regarding the city’s public art.

That committee has hosted two public forums and collected online comments. Their final recommendations are expected in July, making this a nearly yearlong process (which stands in contrast to how cities like New Orleans and nearby Lexington swiftly removed monuments that honored the Confederacy).

But this campaign could address two major issues the Public Art and Monuments Advisory committee has faced in crafting recommendations for the city’s artwork.

The first is that public conversation has been stalled for months on specific monuments, rather than focusing on recommendations for the city’s entire canon of nearly 400 pieces.

That’s where the word “because” in the letter template is important -- it pushes people towards a value our public art should represent, rather than just a declaration of “It should stay” or “It should go.”

This is something committee member Tom Owen first recommended in the committee’s February 7 meeting.

“When I was talking with people and they did begin with a specific ‘It ought to be removed’ or ‘It ought to stay,’ I said, ‘It ought to be removed or it ought to stay, because…” and that pushed our discussion a little bit zooming out to a principle,” Owen said at the time.

Additionally, the committee has struggled to collect the opinions of younger voices. They have a meeting planned at the University of Louisville in April -- but in the meantime, taking the discussion to social media may be a way to engage a wider diversity of audiences.