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Baltimore artists, activists and educators ask what's next after removal of Confederate statues

Sheila Gaskins, of the group Artparthied, leads a discussion in Charles Village on Sunday about what to do next with the spaces where Baltimore has removed Confederate statues.
Sheila Gaskins, of the group Artparthied, leads a discussion in Charles Village on Sunday about what to do next with the spaces where Baltimore has removed Confederate statues. (Kevin Rector / Baltimore Sun)

About 15 community members gathered in an old church space in Charles Village on Sunday to discuss Baltimore's removal of three Confederate statues and what should take their spot.

"People definitely want to talk," said Sheila Gaskins, an organizer with the group Artpartheid. "And they want to be heard."

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"I'm concentrating on Baltimore history," said Kimberly Sheridan, a 57-year-old artist from Pigtown who'd brought a sketchbook of renderings for possible statues: one of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, perhaps, or some of the many local legal luminaries of the civil rights movement.

The removal of the statues is "not going to solve problems," Sheridan said, "but it can inspire people to do that."

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Over hummus and cheese, chicken wings and an arugula and beet salad, the potluck participants had a conversation of a sort now taking place across the country after the deadly rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., in August.

That rally was ostensibly in protest of the removal of a Confederate statue there, but it quickly turned violent, and one counterprotester was killed. Images of torch-carrying Confederate sympathizers were broadcast around the globe, and communities across the country began rethinking their own Confederate monuments and what they stand for.

Within days, Mayor Catherine Pugh contracted the removal of three Confederate statues in public spaces in Baltimore in an overnight operation. She followed up by calling for "creative ideas" for what should replace them, and created a website for submitting them.

It cost Baltimore "less than $20,000" to remove its Confederate monuments, mayor says

Those at the potluck spoke of the need for artists, activists and educators to be at the center of the process.

Gaskins said the goal of the meeting — and three similar meetings that had preceded it — was to look forward, to brainstorm ideas and then raise money for replacement statues.

But she also acknowledged that many people still want to talk about and process the removal of the statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson from Wyman Park Dell; Chief Justice Roger B. Taney from Mount Vernon Place; the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument from Mount Royal Avenue; and the Confederate Women's Monument from West University Parkway.

Some in the room did have lingering questions.

They wanted to know whether the Confederate statues would be allowed to be stood up in other places. They wondered whether they could be melted down or reforged or smashed to bits and displayed that way instead, in a nod to dismantling Confederate and pro-slavery ideology, rather than just removing a hunk of metal from a park.

They also discussed the pedestals of the statues still being in place, and what that means for Baltimore.

"To me, having the pedestals being empty, it's like posing a question: 'What's the city about?' " said Charles Brenton, a landscape architect from Charles Village. "It doesn't bother me having them stay a while, to pose that question."

Owen Silverman Andrews, an educator and organizer from Patterson Park, said removing the statues isn't enough.

"Removing it is the non-racist thing to do," he said. "But what is the anti-racist thing to do?"

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Artist Pablo Machioli, whose anti-hate statue "Madre Luz" briefly took the place of the Jackson statue in the Wyman Park Dell before it was damaged by unknown vandals, said whatever is decided, he'd like it to be conceptualized by artists in the city — not by politicians or the city's art institutions, which he believes seek to please the rich and powerful.

"The solution should be from what we are doing," he said. "Listening to each other."

A white man shoved an anti-hate statue from its perch in the Wyman Park Dell on Thursday and then escaped in a car, Baltimore police said.

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