After more than a year of discussions, it’s official: the statue of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History is falling.
The New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously at a public meeting Monday to move the statue on a long-term loan to a cultural institution dedicated to the life and heritage of the former president. (No institution has yet been designated and discussions on its final destination are underway.)
The vote follows years of protests and backlash from the public against the statue as a symbol of colonialism, in large part because of the Native American and African men depicted alongside Roosevelt on a horse. These objections led the museum in June 2020 to propose the removal of the statue. New York City, the owner of the building and property, accepted the suggestion and Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed support.
In 2017, a municipal commission set up to examine the city’s art, monuments and markers had considered historical research on the statue but could not reach a consensus on its removal.
“Height is power in public art, and Roosevelt’s stature on his noble steed visibly expresses dominance and superiority over Native American and African figures,” the panel written in his report, delivered in January 2018.
At the time, about half of the commission wanted to move the sculpture, and about half recommended additional historical research before making a decision. Only a few members wanted to leave the statue where it was, if the on-site context was provided.
At Monday’s meeting, made public as a YouTube videoSam Biederman of the New York City Department of Parks said that while the statue “was not erected with malicious intent,” its composition “supports a thematic framework of colonization and racism.”
The museum had spent years working with academics and advisers, before and after the statue’s review by the mayor’s monuments commission. In 2019, this research culminated in an exhibition on the context and history of sculpture – and how the public perceived it.
âThe understanding of statues and monuments as powerful and hurtful symbols of systemic racism became even more evident in the wake of the race for racial justice that emerged after the murder of George Floyd,â Dan Slippen, vice president of government relations at the museum, said at the meeting. âIt became clear that the removal of the statue would be a symbol of progress towards an inclusive and equitable community. “