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Louisville's Public Art Committee Moves Past Castleman Toward Principles

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Last week was a busy one for the city’s Public Art and Monuments Advisory Committee, which was established in December and charged with developing a set of principles for evaluating Louisville’s existing public art and monuments.

On Monday, the group installed a letter in front of the controversial John Breckinridge Castleman monument letting residents and visitors know the vandalized statue’s current conditions would not be addressed until after the committee’s final meeting in June.

The statue was thenvandalized again, this time spray-painted with the words “racist” and “traitor.” A city crew came to the site on Thursday and removed the graffiti; this latest vandalism was classified as a normal “graffiti abatement job,” so no special restoration funds were accessed to remove the spray paint.

The committee then held a meeting at the University of Louisville on Thursday night, as well as one on Saturday morning at the Cyril Allgeier Community Center.

But, unlike past meetings, both attendees and committee members moved — though grudgingly at times — past a debate that centered completely on Castleman and onto a discussion of values and principles that could be applied to Louisville’s nearly 400 pieces of public art.

The committee has struggled throughout this process to elicit feedback from diverse populations, including people of color and young people, and the meeting at U of L had a stronger student presence than past meetings. Conversation centered on incorporating values of “inclusivity,” “equity” and “accessibility” into the committee’s recommendations for Mayor Greg Fischer.

Saturday’s meeting opened as the committee handed out a document outlining recommendations they've heard in the three prior forums, as well as questions about those recommendations.

The majority of the meeting time was spent as a work session during which four attending committee members (Tom Owen and Cathy Shannon were absent) tried to narrow broader topics — like historical context, confederate symbolism, original intent, change in meaning and reflection of current city values — into actionable principles.

The committee will pick back up with the process at their meeting on May 18 at the South Central Regional Library.