“Leave our virtue alone.”
That was the message supporters of the Triumph of Civic Virtue statue had for the city of New York.
In a press conference held in front of the statue on Saturday morning, Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), along with other elected officials, community leaders and supporters called for the controversial statue to remain at its current location in Kew Gardens. The city Design Commission ruled at its November meeting to move it to Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Vallone and other supporters say that the decision to move the statue was made behind closed doors and without enough input from residents and community leaders.
The councilman said that his office supposedly received a notification of the meeting; six days after Hurricane Sandy hit the northeastern United States, but that the city council e-mail system was still malfunctioning due to the aftereffects of the storm. Representatives from Community Board 9 said thatthey did not know about the meeting as well.
“Somehow, the cemetery in Brooklyn knew about it, they showed up, but the people in Queens, wenever knew about it, never.” Vallone said. “This is the first chance that the people of Queens are gettingto be heard.” He added that funding should be allocated to fixing the statue, which has seen it fall intodisrepair over the years because of erosion.
The supporters say that they want the statue to remain in Kew Gardens because it has been there forover 70 years and that work of art like the Civic Virtue should remain in a public space and not a private area like it would be in the cemetery.
Others who rallied against moving the statue were Andrea Crawford, Mary Ann Carey, chairwoman and district manager of Community Board 9 respectively, and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-MiddleVillage).
Crawford said that they didn’t receive an e-mail notice of the meeting, even though they regularly receive e-mails from the city Design Commission, and that they have always supported keeping thestatue and renovating it since the issue first started.
“Everyone knows that Community Board 9 has been very vocal about supporting this statue. We havewritten letters to the mayor as far back as 2006,” She said.
One reason that opponents have supported moving the statue is because they believe that it is offensive towards women. The sculpture depicts a man standing on top of two women.
Councilman Vallone and others said that they are not offended by the statue and that it is an artistic piece. “I’m the father of two daughters, if I thought this was sexist I would not be here,” Vallone said. “This statue depicts Greek mythology.”
Beth Watkins and Mary Reilly, two Kew Gardens residents who attended the press conference also supporting the statue, said that it would damage the community if the structure were to be moved to another borough.
“This statue has never been an issue here,” Watkins said. “It’s part of what makes Kew Gardens special. It’s like the carousel.”
One question that still remains is how much it would actually cost to restore the statue itself. Vallonesaid that he is unsure about the cost and he has been working to get a dollar amount on that. A spokeswoman representing the cemetery told The Forum last week that the exact cost has not yet beendetermined but that it will be paid for by the cemetery and the city of New York.
While protestors are upset that the statue is moving to Brooklyn, a city spokesperson said that the move is a long-term loan to the cemetery. The spokesperson would not say whether or not the door would be open for the statue to return to Kew Gardens in the future. The spokesperson also defended the statue’s move saying that the intention is to preserve to work of art.
“The relocation of Civic Virtue by Frederick MacMonnies to Green Wood is part of a public-private initiative to ensure the long-term preservation of the sculpture, which will be conserved this spring. Civic Virtue will remain fully accessible to the public, and we are working on establishing a vibrant, welcoming public space in Queens while the statue is on loan to Green Wood,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Dan Andrews, spokesman for Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, said that Marshall if the statue is indeed moved, she would like to renovate that area and turn it into a memorial honoring a group of women in Queens’ history. He added that a committee would be formed to determine the specifics of the memorial.
By Luis Gronda