CALL FOR ENTRIES
Deadline: February 22nd, 2018
The 2018 BDA Prize [Charlottesville: Identity & Design] seeks proposals for a site-specific work of public art that will successfully embody the values and aspirations of a diverse community. We seek proposals from artists, architects, designers, and citizens that will offer ideas for an artistic, cultural, social, political, or ecological foundation that our community may build upon for the future.
Introduction and Context
Charlottesville Virginia is only one southern city struggling to express the reality of a complex past and understand how the stories of the past affect the present, learning to discern the difference between history and propaganda.
Foundation Values: Eight American presidents are from Virginia. Four of these were involved in the foundation documents of the nation, and seven were born owning slaves. By reputation, Enlightenment values undergirded the Founders’ activities, yet they benefitted from trade in human beings as property. And in the streets and parks of Charlottesville, a city largely unscathed by the Civil War, one surprisingly finds bronze and granite images of Confederate foot soldiers and generals, as if it was.
False History: In terms of the City Beautiful Movement and the Civil War, Charlottesville is not unique. In 2016 the Southern Poverty Law Center counted in the United States over 1,500 Confederate sculptures, memorials, place names, and other monuments displayed in public spaces in honor of the losing side of the Civil War. They further note that there is nothing even remotely comparable to this in honor of the winning side. Symbols embedded in our urban fabric can present a shockingly unbalanced narrative, and won’t necessarily speak for everyone.
The parks in which Charlottesville’s bronze-and-granite Confederate statues stand were in fact early gentrification projects.
Erasing History: Gentrification is synonymous with inequality and will proceed by means subtle or brutal. Adjacent to downtown Charlottesville was a neighborhood called Vinegar Hill, historically the center of African-American life and commerce. Under the aegis of federal urban renewal initiatives, the neighborhood was razed to the ground in 1964. Homes, businesses, and gathering places were removed, leaving 20 acres in the center of the city empty for over twenty years, the site eventually filling in with uninspired commercial and civic structures.
The question, then: Through what symbols would a diverse community express its narratives and keep them close to the truth? And how would they best be expressed? What would be the best path to correcting a narrative understood as imbalanced at best, or false at worst?
Many believe the destruction and removal of offending symbols would be the best path to a balanced narrative. But “destruction and removal” as an idea comes with uncomfortable resonances: the destruction and removal of Vinegar Hill being just one example. With this understanding, the BDA Prize encourages creation rather than destruction. This design competition is not about the question of the legacy and meaning of Charlottesville’s Vinegar Hill per se, nor is it about the question of the legacy and meaning of Confederate symbols and memorials in our midst. But those questions are important context in our town and across the county. As those questions play out, they open up another line of inquiry, which this competition is indeed about:
If public art deemed inappropriate is removed, what should fill the resulting vacuum?
What would or could a community build together?
What could express our history without imprisoning us within it?
What thing, space, experience, or artifact could a diverse community be inspired by?
What would be an appropriate expression of our place, time, and values?
What would engender constructive dialogue?
What expresses and celebrates our diversity, and even our disagreements, but finds a common thread?