The controversy surrounding Confederate statues and other contested monuments that celebrate slave owners, imperialism, and white settler colonialism have been highlighted in recent months. Although activists have advocated for the removal of these monuments for years, the racial unrest this summer has brought these issues to the forefront of the cultural heritage sector and greater society as community activists empower themselves to take down such monuments all over the world. This has caused conflicted feelings in some conservators who want to support racial justice in public spaces, but who have been traditionally taught to always prioritize the preservation of outdoor sculpture and monuments. Conservators may also be conflicted if their employers task them with the care of contested monuments, calling professional ethics into question. At the crux of the matter are questions surrounding who is valued in our society and who gets to make decisions in regard to public spaces and the interpretation of history. Competing values surrounding the removal of contested monuments will be explored with panelists including artists, historians, and preservation professionals.
Dr. Renée Ater
Dr. Renée Ater holds a B.A. from Oberlin College, and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Maryland. A public scholar who works at the intersection of art and history, Dr. Ater’s research focuses on monuments, race, national identity, and public space. She is the author of Keith Morrison, volume 5 of The David C. Driskell Series of African American Art (Pomegranate Books, 2005) and Remaking Race and History: The Sculpture of Meta Warrick Fuller (University of California Press, 2011) as well as essays on a wide range of public monuments.
Brent Leggs is the executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Senior Advisor and Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Preservation of Civil Rights Sites. Brent authored Preserving African American Historic Places and led efforts to establish the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. From his work to protect NY’s Madam C. J. Walker’s Villa Lewaro and NC’s Nina Simone’s Childhood Home, he believes that preservation is activism and a tool for growing equity and justice.
Ada Pinkston is an artist, educator, and cultural organizer living and working in Baltimore, MD, where she is a lecturer in Art Education at Towson University. Her work explores the intersection of imagined histories and sociopolitical realities on our bodies using performance, digital media, and mixed-media sculptures and installations.
Nylah Byrd (Moderator)
Nylah graduated with Honors from Stanford University with a B.A. in Archaeology and minors in Studio Art and Chemistry. In her junior year at Stanford she was introduced to the field of Conservation while visiting the Presidio of San Francisco as part of an archaeology course field trip. The following summer she interned under the supervision of Dana Moffett at the National Museum of African Art. Nylah worked with African ethnographic objects such as Adinkra stamps, Kissi pennis, and Akan gold weights. After graduating, she began a six-month internship at the National Museum of American History in the paper conservation lab. While she worked mainly with Janice Ellis, she was given projects in the textile and object labs as well. Her projects included mending century-old papers used in the textile manufacturing process, constructing a head mount for a bonnet, cleaning a Yankee ticket booth, and rehousing a collection of 120 pocket watch papers. She also has archaeological fieldwork experience and developed strong administrative skills in her various short-term jobs during and after undergraduate years. In her free time, she enjoys painting her nails, performing hip-hop and k-pop dance, and is a tiny bird enthusiast.
Laleña Arenas Vellanoweth (Moderator)
Laleña Arenas Vellanoweth is a textile conservator in Los Angeles, CA. She received her B.S. in Biochemistry and B.A. in Art from California State University, Los Angeles and MA in Art History and Certificate in Conservation from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She has worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Autry Museum of the American West, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She currently works as the Civic Art Conservation and Collections Manager for the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, where she manages the preservation of the County's Civic Art collection and oversees projects that promote healing, equity and access for the County's artworks in public spaces.