The proposal for “Portrait of a Phenomenal Woman” by Berkeley-based artist Lava Thomas was scored the highest by the panel asked to judge potential statues honoring Maya Angelou, but ultimately rejected by the Arts Commission. (Courtesy image)

An SF resolution for 2020: Erect a statue honoring Dr. Maya Angelou

City to reissue call for proposals from artists

After an effort to commission a statue honoring Dr. Maya Angelou unraveled in 2019, The City has restarted the process for 2020 with clearer criteria for proposals.

While The City was well on its way in commissioning a statue to honor the late author earlier this year, the winning proposal ran into objections from Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who took the lead on the legislation mandating the work.

Stefani called for a do-over at an Arts Commission committee hearing in October, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner. The Arts Commission agreed, noting that they work for the sponsors of the project, in this case the Board of Supervisors.

The artist whose work won the competition, Berkeley-based artist Lava Thomas, blasted the process.

The legislation called for artwork that should “include a significant figurative representation of Maya Angelou,” but there was confusion about what “figurative” meant between Stefani and the Arts Commission.

Stefani wanted a more traditional statue, while Thomas’ proposal, which appeared as a book with the portrait of Angelou on the cover, was a more figurative representation.

Now The City is going back out to request proposals with a much clearer description of what they are looking for: a three-dimensional statue depicting Angelou.

The Arts Commission intends to release the second official request in January for artists to propose a statue in honor of Angelou for placement outside of the Main Public Library on the Larkin Street side.

The new timeline was presented at a Library Commission hearing in December. The commission also voted to have Library Commission president Dr. Mary Wardell Ghirarduzzi serve on the Dr. Maya Angelou Artwork Project Review Panel. The panel includes a representative from the Commission on the Status of Women, an Arts Commissioner, and three outside arts professionals.

The panel will ultimately select a finalist to recommend for Arts Commission approval. Under the timeline, the Arts Commission should award the contract in July 2020.

Susan Pontious, public art program director for the Arts Commission, told the commission that this time “we have specifically stated in the [request for qualifications] that it is a three-dimensional statue so that we are very specific about what is desired and then that will be the directive to the panel too.”

“When we say figurative it covers a broad range of representation whereas with the project sponsors when they said figurative they thought we were talking about still a statue,” Pontious said. “I think that was where the disconnect happened. That is my theory.”

The project is mandated in legislation approved by the Board of Supervisor in 2018 to increase representation of nonfictional women in The City’s statues and monuments, beginning with the Angelou installation by December 31, 2020.

“While most of the sculptures in the City’s collection that honor individuals recognize white men, the sculpture of Dr. Angelou will redress this gender imbalance by not only honoring a woman, but a woman of color,” according to the Arts Commission.

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