From Auburn, New York to Ypsilanti, Michigan, the commissioning of a Harriet Tubman statue has been a source of civic pride. In Philadelphia, the city where Harriet first experienced freedom, the public art acquisition process is tainted by white privilege, lies, and fuzzy math. The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) manipulated survey data to minimize public support for a permanent Harriet Tubman statue. OACCE claimed that only 25% of respondents want a statue of the American icon.
When OACCE was called out by a reporter with the Philadelphia Inquirer, the “full report and report summary were revised on November 22, 2022, clarifying the result for question one.”
The Celebrating the Legacy of Nana Harriet Tubman Committee has had enough of OACCE’s lies and “math not mathing.” During an interview on “Wake Up With WURD” Committee spokesperson Mama Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza said, “We cannot let this level of disrespect and incompetence continue to happen.”
Mama Maisha recounted that OACCE Director Kelly Lee told her that the City planned to award a no-bid commission to Wesley Wofford “because he’s in the system already. We can expedite it faster because he’s already in our system.” Her response: “Of course he is. White men are always in the system.” In a majority-minority city, two African American women are gatekeepers for white privilege.
These unaccountable bureaucrats want to sign the contract for the Harriet Tubman statue – or random African American figure – while their boss, Mayor Jim Kenney, is still in office. To do so, they have set an arbitrary timeline that would require artists competing for the commission to work like slaves through Christmas, Kwanzaa, Watch Night, New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend. By contrast, Lee and Anglin spoon-fed Wofford inside information for months as he prepared his proposal.
Mama Maisha notes the disparate treatment of Black and other underrepresented artists:
Now they got a speedy timeline. They want everything in by January, over the holidays. People busy, people committed to their families. They got stuff to do at the end of the year. So now you got a rushed timeline. You didn’t have a rushed timeline for Wesley Wofford. But now that you’re dealing with people of color and women, you got a rushed timeline.
The Celebrating the Legacy of Nana Harriet Tubman Committee said in a statement:
Enough! OACCE’s misinterpretation of the data and the lack of transparency in their decisions and actions minimize the importance of community engagement in public art acquisition. We demand a moratorium on the current statue commission Open Call until new, competent, transparent, and accountable oversight is created.
Mama Maisha told Attorney Michael Coard:
We want a moratorium on this Open Call, and we want Kelly Lee and Marguerite Anglin removed from any oversight. We’re going to the Mayor. We’re going to City Council. And if necessary, we will put boots on the ground in front of the Mayor’s Office. We’re ready to hit the streets.
If you have had enough of the coonery at OACCE, contact Mama Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza at (215) 385-0214 or Dr. Michelle Strongfields at (267) 231-0092; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.