On Wednesday morning, the Philadelphia Art Commission voted to remove and potentially relocate the controversial Christopher Columbus statue from Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia. Eight of the commission’s nine members voted to move the statue that overlooks South Broad Street into storage. The decision follows the Philadelphia Historical Commission 10-12 vote last week in favor of removing the statue.

“Philadelphia’s public art should reflect the people and spirit of our city without dividing us as a community,” Public Art Director Margot Berg said in a previous statement. “As we’ve seen demonstrated here and across the country, many of the individuals that are celebrated in bronze and stone are a point of pride to some, while causing great pain for others whose ancestors were impacted by their actions and whose communities still suffer under systems of oppression. While it may seem counterintuitive, the reality is that one aspect of managing a public art collection is the occasional removal of works from public view.”

Philadelphia will be responsible for the “safe removal and storage of the Columbus statue,” according to Philadelphia Fox 29. The city’s art commission will then be tasked with deciding where it can be relocated in the future.

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In June, the statue became the center of heated debate between groups who wanted to defend it from vandalism amid ongoing social unrest, and other groups who saw the statue as a symbol of hate. The confrontations between the opposing sides resulted in violence and numerous arrests. As a result of the clashes, Mayor Jim Kenney and city officials denounced the vigilante groups defending the city’s property.

(Photo/Philadelphia Fox 29)

Since then, the statue has remained encased in a wooden box while the city and art community debated its future. Mayor Kenney in June made his stance on the Columbus statue known by requesting it be removed.

“Clashes between those individuals who support the statue of Christopher Columbus in Marconi Plaza and those who are distressed by its existence have deteriorated to a concerning public safety situation. It is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue,” the mayor wrote. 

Statues of Columbus were earlier removed in nearby Camden, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware. In Richmond, Virginia, a statue of Christopher Columbus was torn down, set on fire and thrown into a lake. In Columbia, South Carolina, the first U.S. city named for Columbus, a statue of the explorer was removed after it was vandalized several times, and a vandalized statue in Boston also was removed from its pedestal.

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