Open Letter to the Vance Monument Task Force

Dear Members of the Vance Monument Taskforce,

Across the nation, communities are looking at long-standing public artworks in a new light. Are these valuable pieces of our history or are they symbols of oppression that continue to reinforce inequities in our society? What is clear is the public art we choose to place in our city square makes a decisive statement about our shared values.

Repurpose, remove, or relocate? This is the question before the Vance Monument Taskforce. These three simple words have the power to change Asheville’s identity moving forward.

Monument Lab, a public art and history studio based in Philadelphia, defines a monument as “a statement of power and presence in public.” Monument Lab co-founder Ken Lum says “monuments are symbolic objects linked to the construction of cultural memory and to the self-image of a place or a nation that need to be examined critically to assure that history in all its multiplicity is articulated.”

Articulating the multiple truths of the Vance Monument’s history is important. The monument means many things to our local community. It is a symbol of heritage, an iconic landmark, and a towering reminder of inequity all rolled into one. These things can all be true at the same time, and they should not be forgotten. But, that does not mean the monument needs to stay in its current location. Allowing the Vance Monument to remain in our public square continues to divide our community and casts a lingering shadow over efforts to bring about real healing and change. Repurposing just puts a band-aid over a wound that will continue to fester. Even if the monument takes on a new form, we will all know it is still there.

In his 2017 speech, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said by removing monuments “we have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations.” I urge you to read his full speech if you have not done so already.

There are public artworks that divide communities, and there are public artworks that bring people together, create social understanding, and aid in the healing process. If we truly care about racial equity here in Asheville, we must remove symbols of oppression from our city center.

The Vance Monument certainly holds a place in Asheville’s history and that history (all of it) deserves to be remembered. But, our past does not need to define our future. Therefore, I urge you to select removal or relocation.

Thank you for your time and willingness to serve.

With Gratitude,

Katie Cornell
Executive Director
Asheville Area Arts Council

Related Context: Asheville’s Vance Monument is Considered Public Art