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Kenney says Art Commission will make the call on Rizzo statue

Chris Brennan, STAFF WRITER

Updated: Tuesday, August 22, 2017, 2:20 PM

Some people want to remove this statue of the late Mayor Frank L. Rizzo from outside the Municipal Services Building.

The only thing certain about the fate of the statue of former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo is that Philadelphia is going to keep discussing it for a while.

Mayor Kenney on Tuesday said his administration hopes to announce by next week “a possible starting point for discussion” about whether to relocate the statue from its perch in front of the Municipal Services Building, across from City Hall.

“It has to be a request to the Art Commission for them to conduct a hearing about the pros and cons of the piece,” Kenney said.

Kenney’s staff is working on a request to start that process. He predicted more than one hearing on the issue before the commission votes on whether to remove the statue.

He declined to predict the outcome, except that the ultimate decision probably will spark dissent.

“This is not something that I want to ordain or want to make an independent judgment on,” Kenney said. “Not everybody will be happy, but everybody will be heard.”

Kenney said he believes this will be the first time the Art Commission is asked about removing a controversial piece of art.

“So it’s kind of new ground for everybody,” he said.

The nine-member Art Commission is appointed by the mayor and, according to the City Charter, must include a painter, a sculptor, an architect, a landscape architect, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, an experienced business executive and two faculty or governing-board members from schools of art or architecture. The Commissioner of Public Property is also a member but does not have a vote.

The charter gives the commission authority over any city art “acquired” and “removed, relocated or altered in any way.”

Alan Greenberger, a professor at Drexel University and chairman of the Art Commission, on Tuesday said he did not expect the Rizzo statue to come up for a hearing until October.

There was a flare of controversy last August after two protesters briefly placed a Ku Klux Klan hood on the head of Rizzo, a former police commissioner who left a complex legacy in the city’s racial politics.

Kenney at the time said he was open to a discussion about moving the statue.

But the issue faded until this month, when City Councilwoman Helen Gym called in a Twitter post for removal of the statue after white supremacists and neo-Nazis clashed on Aug. 12 with counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va. The violence was triggered by the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

A policy developed during Mayor Michael A. Nutter’s administration in 2012 spells out the process for the “removal, relocation and de-accession of publicly displayed artwork.”

Irreparable damage, excessive maintenance costs, and a determination that the artwork is no longer suitable for the location are among the reasons for potential removal.

The policy also lists these reasons:

“The condition or security of the artwork cannot be reasonably guaranteed.”

“If public protest of the artwork had occurred throughout a significant portion of a period of five years.”

A 2011 independent candidate for mayor was arrested Friday and accused of spray-painting the words Black Power on the statue’s torso Thursday night.

The statue has drawn several protests, including one Monday among groups that want it removed. That protest, which drew about 75 people, also called for the end of the “stop and frisk” practice by police and more investment in public schools.

Protester: "the Rizzo statue is coming down" want reparations for MOVE, an end to stop and frisk, more money for teachers and schools pic.twitter.com/YJuhiYTx4c

A pro-statue rally, set for the same time and place Monday, was canceled after the organizers agreed to meet privately with Kenney, according to the mayor. The flier for that rally said it was called “to oppose bigotry against Italians, law enforcement and the ethnic fiber of Philadelphia.”

Kenney said his “main goal” was to prevent injuries to protesters and police officers if the two sides met at the statue.

“What we were afraid of was any type of pro-statue rally was going to be supplemented by people from the outside with mal intent,” Kenney said.

Despite the heated rhetoric among the people who want the statue to stay or be removed, Kenney questioned whether the majority of city residents care. He also said the issue “diverts attention” from pressing city issues, like opioid addiction, the state of police-community relations, and efforts to improve local schools.

“All over a piece of metal that people love or hate or don’t care,” Kenney said. “I don’t think people are too torqued up about it.”

Staff writer Adia H. Robinson contributed to this report.

Chris Brennan, STAFF WRITER

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