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Identity & Community

Pittsburgh Art Commission Unanimously Recommends Relocating Controversial Stephen Foster Statue

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A statue of Stephen Foster in Schenley Plaza depicts the composer and a slave.

Pittsburgh’s controversial statue of composer Stephen Foster could soon be removed from its location in Schenley Plaza.

Pittsburgh’s Art Commission was tasked with deciding the fate of the statue, following public concern and petitions about the city-owned property. The piece depicts Foster seemingly transcribing the music of an enslaved black man, seated at his feet, shoeless.

At its meeting Wednesday afternoon, members of the nine-member commission agreed with the majority of public input received: that the statue is problematic, especially in its current location.

“Having it in public view is sending the wrong message to people living in Pittsburgh, and people actually visiting,” said Art Commission member Kilolo Luckett. “This is not the message we want to send.”

Member Sarika Goulatia called the piece racist. No members vocalized an interest in leaving the statue where it is and amending it with signage, nor did anyone advocate for destroying it altogether. Most said it would be more appropriately displayed in a private setting.

“I think it would be a great conversation for the next generation and art historians to go and study it in a place where they can really understand why the statue was removed, why it was made in the first place, and what was wrong with it,” said Goulatia.

The commission recommended that it be removed within six months. It will likely temporarily be stored by the Department of Public Works. They gave a timeline of 18 months to find a private party recipient, such as the Heinz History Center, to accept the piece for display.