Virginia Museum of Fine Arts no longer involved in Monument Avenue project after city takes over Lee statue |

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is no longer part of a Monument Avenue “reimagining” project following the removal of Confederate statues from the historic route over the past two years.

While museum officials expected to secure $10 million from the state to facilitate the planning process with historians, architects, landscapers, activists and community members over the next few years, no longer knows how the project will progress.

VMFA spokesperson Amy Peck said Friday that the museum’s involvement in the project ended in December, just before Governor Glenn Youngkin took office, and the state was turning over ownership of the Robert E. Lee and the land where he was in the town of Richmond.

“As a state agency, VMFA reports directly to the governor. After the Commonwealth conveyed this property to the city…VMFA was informed by the governor’s office that VMFA would no longer be involved in the Monument Avenue project since all properties affected by the project were now owned by the city,” Peck said. . “VMFA was not consulted by the Commonwealth or the City of Richmond on this decision.”

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WTVR first reported the project’s museum release.

While former Governor Ralph Northam originally proposed to allocate $10 million to the museum for the project in December 2020, the General Assembly voted to allocate only $1 million to start the process and instructed the VMFA to present a plan to state officials by September 1. 1, 2022.

Peck said only $100,000 was spent and the museum plans to return the rest of the money to the state.

Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, both Democrats, ordered the removal of the Lee Monument and other Confederate statues from Monument Avenue in June 2020, amid local and national protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The city removed the statues it had that summer, but litigation challenging the governor’s order delayed the removal of Lee’s statue until last September.

The toppling of the statues follows a years-long political debate over Confederate monuments, which critics say are heinous symbols of white supremacy. Many Republican lawmakers opposed their removal, saying they represented the state’s history and cultural heritage. But the 2020 General Assembly, just months before the protest movement, passed an amendment to a law banning their removal.

As the state finalized the removal of the Lee Monument pedestal in December, just after Republican nominee Youngkin was elected gubernatorial, state and city officials announced plans to donate the monuments to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.

Officials from the city and the Black History Museum, which is partnering with Richmond’s Valentine Museum to develop a plan for what to do with the monuments, have since shared few details on next steps.

In her weekly bulletin on Friday, 2nd District Councilwoman Katherine Jordan, whose district covers a long stretch of the Monument Avenue corridor, said she and other officials were unaware of the ongoing plans. “We are working to get more information from the [city] administration, and I hope to share a more substantial update soon,” she said.

Katherine Driggs, a local resident who had participated in a community group who worked with the VMFA on the Monument Avenue project, said the process began to unravel early last year. Driggs said there had been disputes over who should be involved, and the band had effectively disbanded.

In an interview Friday, Driggs said she was concerned that the lack of a grassroots planning effort could lead city officials to select a few organizations or individuals to shape the future of the avenue with little or no contribution from the community as a whole.

“We have a series of incredible historical assets waiting to be used, and we all keep looking at them, too nervous to take the first step. And I think we all have to start doing things,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot for the Valentine’s Day and Black History Museum to figure out what to do with the monuments.”

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