Mayor Jim Kenney and the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) announced a new direction for the development of Philadelphia’s permanent Harriet Tubman statue. After extensive engagement with the community and stakeholders, the City has decided to initiate an open Call for Artists to commission a permanent statue that will be located on the North Apron at City Hall.
The City of Philadelphia hosted the temporary Harriet Tubman: The Journey to Freedom statue by artist Wesley Wofford at City Hall from January 11 to March 31, 2022, in celebration of Harriet Tubman’s 200th birthday. The Journey to Freedom shared the story of Harriet Tubman that reached close to four million people who either visited the statue in Philadelphia or experienced the statue and its positive response through social media. In March, the City announced a direct commission for the same artist to create a permanent Harriet Tubman statue specifically for Philadelphia, which was inspired by Wofford’s work. Following the announcement, concerns were raised by some local artists, community members, and stakeholders that the direct commission did not allow for diverse and local artists to apply for this opportunity through an open call process.
The City of Philadelphia’s decision to do an open Call for Artists is in response to requests for minority, female, or local artists to be able compete to create the permanent Harriet Tubman statue at City Hall. Prioritizing opportunities for minorities has always been a cornerstone of the initiatives and programs of the Kenney Administration and OACCE. This Administration has expanded the diversity of the City’s public art collection with projects such as A Quest for Parity: The Octavius V. Catto Memorial by Branly Cadet at City Hall; MVP by Brian McCutcheon at Smith Playground; the upcoming Bethel Burying Ground Historic Site Memorial, Her Luxuriant Soil by Karyn Olivier; the temporary Harriet Tubman: The Journey to Freedom by Wesley Wofford at City Hall; and supporting an upcoming public art project dedicated to Marian Anderson.
The open Call for Artists will welcome proposals for a permanent statue that celebrates Harriet Tubman’s story or another African American’s contribution to our nation’s history. The expanded theme will allow the City to continue to be responsive to the public’s overwhelming desire for a Harriet Tubman statue while also inviting artists to propose their own creative expression and original ideas.
The open Call for Artists will follow OACCE’s standard public artist selection process. The Call for Artists will open before the end of 2022. OACCE plans to announce the selected artist and design by Fall 2023 with hope to have the project completed and installed by Fall 2024. The public will have a voice and opportunities to engage throughout the process.
As with all OACCE open Call for Artists, priority will be given to artists who reflect the diversity of Philadelphia. Minority, local, and female artists are strongly encouraged to apply.