Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said his proposal to purchase a $70,000 statue featuring a young Black girl swinging around a stop sign is meant to diversify and expand the city’s collection of sculptures on Main Street by J. Seward Johnson, a request he said he’s been hearing from Carmel’s minority populations for two or three years.
“A lot of African Americans asked to have (a statue) that’s part of that Seward Johnson collection, so we are responding to the people that asked,” Brainard said.
Carmel is home to the largest collection of Seward Johnson sculptures outside of the artist’s home state of New Jersey. Most of the city’s 15 statues by Seward Johnson are from the “Celebrating the Familiar” collection, which depict realistic moments from daily life. Carmel’s statues feature scenes from the 1970s.
“Waiting to Cross,” the statue set to be added to Carmel’s collection, fits the style and era of the other Seward Johnson statues in downtown Carmel, Brainard said. First cast in 1986, it is one of a handful from the “Celebrating the Familiar” collection featuring an African American.
“This is the one that’s available, and we believe the best one,” Brainard said. “We don’t want to put her in 2010 or 2020 clothing. We want to continue with that series, which is supposed to be from 50 years ago.”
The Carmel City Council discussed a proposal to set aside $180,000 for the statue and one to be designed with input from the city’s Indian community at its Sept. 21 meeting. City Council President Laura Campbell sent the matter to committee for further discussion after Carmel resident Ti’Gre McNear, who is Black, spoke during the meeting and said the Seward Johnson sculpture is a “very dated representation” of the Black community.
McNear also suggested the city consider using work by a Black artist and that the Black community be given the same opportunity to provide input on the statue as the Indian community will have for the Indian statue.
Campbell said she was uncomfortable having the council vote on the proposal without a chance to hear from Brainard more about the statue and how it was selected. Brainard, who was not in attendance, said he missed the meeting because of a family event.
Brainard said the process for designing the sculpture representing the Indian community is different because there are no statues of people with Indian heritage in the “Celebrating the Familiar” collection. Seward Johnson, who was white, died earlier this year at age 89.
Brainard said he is working with members of the African American community on a mural project and other pieces of art, with initial details expected to be announced soon.
The mayor works with art experts and consultants to select pieces for the city, and he said he welcomes ideas and feedback from the community. The city has an advisory committee that gives recommendations on where to place artwork, but Brainard is responsible for selecting the pieces.
“There’s been instances around the country where some artwork in very poor taste has been installed by committees, then they are gone and the elected official has to deal with it,” he said. “It’s not something I want to turn over to a committee, because I’m the one who has to answer to the voters about how their money was spent.”
A date for the committee meeting has not been announced.