A planned public sculpture that would commemorate Charlottesville’s Vinegar Hill neighborhood has thus far failed to raise the private funding needed for its construction.
Major funding from city taxpayers also appears unlikely after a discussion by Charlottesville City Council last week failed to reach a verdict on a contribution of $25,000 in city funds.
Council discussed the project after their deliberations on the removal of the Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson statues. While several councilors voiced support for the provision of more public funding, a decision ultimately was postponed to allow Councilors Wes Bellamy and Kristin Szakos to craft a resolution for consideration at a future meeting.
“None of this is reflective of our commitment to the Jefferson School and the African American Heritage Center,” Szakos said.
While the Jefferson School remains, Charlottesville’s largely African-American neighborhoods of Vinegar Hill and Garrett were razed in the 1960s in the name of urban renewal. New York-based sculptor Melvin Edwards has been commissioned to create the monument to the areas, and in 2014 he visited Charlottesville to share his design.
The discussion of city funding for the project began in 2011 when Elizabeth Breeden, a member of the Dialogue on Race Committee, requested $24,000 to get the project off the ground. Ultimately, the allocated $18,000 to the project.
Assistant City Manager Mike Murphy told council the monument was the last on a list of nine recommendations for consideration from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces. He noted that the group that commissioned the monument is not considering alternative locations.
“[They are] very clear that the only place that [the monument] was designed for is in front of [the African American Heritage Center], and that’s the only place they would allow it to be installed,” he said.
Murphy said the private fundraising effort for the $300,000 sculpture “has not been very successful,” and asked council if they wished to put public funding into the project.
“They currently have just over 10 percent of that money on hand,” he said.
Some councilors were hesitant to promise more public money for the project.
Szakos, the only current councilor who was present at the 2011 meeting, recalled that the remainder of the monument’s funding was meant to be secured through private donations, with a total goal of between $100,000 and $200,000.
“I think that the reason that it did pass at that time was that this council was assured that that would be the last ask for this project from council,” Szakos said.
Mayor Mike Signer said the assurance is an important fact to consider.
Szakos said she does not support additional city funding for the monument.
Councilor Bob Fenwick said that he was concerned about “the amount of money that would be allocated to [the Vinegar Hill Monument],” especially if money for the monument could interfere with funding already promised for redesigning other parks downtown.
Councilor Kathy Galvin said that the plan to redesign downtown parks “stops short of funding any new memorial with totally public money because it is not typical for local government.”
Galvin said she could not support additional public funding for the Vinegar Hill Monument.
Fenwick said he would be behind the city finding middle ground.
“I would support helping [the monument],” said Fenwick. “I would be willing to compromise.”
Bellamy said more than 600 people participated in public planning of the monument, and it carries significant community support.
“There is a great deal of people who are looking forward to this project coming to fruition,” he said.
Council emphasized their commitment to the Jefferson School, the African American Heritage Center, and the memorialization of Vinegar Hill and other historic locations in the city. Some said they hoped private donations could be secured for the creation of the Vinegar Hill Monument and other upcoming historical monuments.
Bellamy suggested a matching grant by the city and Szakos proposed providing public money only towards the end of the group’s fundraising efforts.
Mayor Signer proposed that a two-year timeline be attached to an agreement to match or top off funds raised privately.
Galvin pointed out that City Council does not know what a future budget will look like the coming fiscal year and that the Vinegar Hill Monument is a big project that falls outside of typical spending.
Bellamy proposed a motion to provide $25,000 of public funds to the project when the group is ready to move forward with the monument’s construction.
“That might be a way to reach unanimity on this,” Galvin responded.
A resolution on funding options will be brought back to Council at an upcoming meeting.