As the 21st century has unfolded, America has been learning difficult lessons. We are experiencing cultural shifts that are as healthy as they are painful. One lesson we are learning is that we should not idealize individuals without carefully considering what we are trying to express. History may be a record of actual events, but our view of it is subjective depending on where we stand. The heroes and explorers from one nation can also be seen as the conquerors and pillagers of another. While we are a nation of immigrants and formerly enslaved people, the land was first occupied by indigenous people who remain here, while often uprooted from their original homes. Now is an important time to think about who we honor, how, and where.
While women in all societies are the glue that holds our world together, we are largely unacknowledged in the public realm. Women’s strength, leadership, and cultural impact have gone under-recognized, and the most invisible of all women are those who are nurturers — the mothers, caregivers, community builders, often recent immigrants and people of color.
As society changes, we have been reassessing how we want our public spaces to look and feel. We are thinking about accessibility, inclusion, light, shade, art, and other physical elements that make people feel welcome.
Therefore, instead of thinking about monuments, let us think about creating meaningful and welcoming places:
- If we want to create a respectful society, we need to create public spaces that promote community and elevate all our stories.
- We need to see diverse women honored in all public spaces –parks, buildings, streetscapes, concert halls, and the airwaves.
- The more we share each other’s stories the greater our understanding and empathy for each other.
- Public artworks that recognize women add new layers to America’s portrait — layers that have not been adequately shown.
So, let us celebrate our lives with artful places to contemplate. Compose music about us to inspire the world. Tell our stories through pictures, sculpture, films, and theatre.
Just don’t put us on a pedestal.
Join us for Reclaiming Womanhood: Honoring Women Through The Arts, a community feedback workshop.
Barbara Goldstein is the principal for Art Builds Community (formerly known as Barbara Goldstein & Associates), a creative placemaking and public art planning firm in San José, CA, . She is the former Public Art Director for the City of San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs and editor of “Public Art by the Book”, a primer published by Americans for the Arts and the University of Washington Press.