Brian Payne, president and CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation and leader of the Cultural Trail project, made this announcement today at a noon press conference at 37 Place (formerly IPS School 37) on the near Eastside. Payne was joined by a number of leaders from the city's African-American community who were involved in opposition to the Wilson piece, including Imam Michael Saahir of Citizens Against Slave Image.
Payne said that after a series of community meetings in which 100 people took part, it was determined that 90 percent of those participants were against going forward with the Wilson piece because the proposed figure promoted a biased 19th century image that did not represent the contemporary African-American community. Payne said the Wilson proposal had caused members of the African-American community "great anxiety and pain," for which, he said, "I apologize."
The boards of the CICF and the Cultural Trail both voted unanimously to abandon the Wilson project, according to Payne. Mayor Greg Ballard, upon hearing of these votes, praised the decision not to move forward with the project.
Payne said this process had impressed on him the significant difference between public art and art in museums. He said CICF is now prepared to support a process led by African-American leadership to see if a memorial piece can be created. "We are at your service," he said, emphasizing that the CICF is "happy to help, but I don't want to get ahead of you."
Speakers on behalf of the African-American opposition to the project spoke in praise of the process that led to the abandonment of the proposed Wilson piece. Imam Saahir struck a common theme when he said: "Abandonment of the project is testament to what people can accomplish when they come together for the common good."
Payne reported that Fred Wilson was informed of the decision not to go forward with "E Pluribus Unum" last Sunday. He said Wilson was "disappointed" and wanted to know the nature of the conversations that took place leading up to the decision. Payne characterized Wilson as "a classy, gracious gentleman."
The CICF has budgeted $175,000 to support the development of a "public art/memorial" project, created in concert with representatives from the African-American community involved with protests against Wilson's sculpture. A kickoff meeting for the project will be held in early 2012, according to a CICF press release.
A $50,000 grant made by the Joyce Foundation in support of the Wilson project may also go toward the creation of an African-American memorial, according to Payne. He said the Joyce Foundation was aware of how things had played out and was "complementary" about the process leading up to the decision to terminate the Wilson project. The $50,000 is currently in a separate fund; the Joyce board will now vote on whether to ask for a return of funds or, as Payne hopes, put it toward the new initiative.