The Carmel City Council voted 7-2 Oct. 5 to spend $180,000 to diversify the city’s collection of statues near Main Street.
The funds are designated to purchase a sculpture of a young Black girl by the late J. Seward Johnson and one of an Indian person to be crafted by Seward Johnson’s atelier.
Councilors Tim Hannon and Tony Green voted against the ordinance. Hannon said he supports adding both statues, but he doesn’t believe it’s the best use of funds during a pandemic when many local families and small businesses are struggling — especially when Mayor Jim Brainard’s fund to support the arts will soon be replenished with $1.35 million to start the new year. The mayor has already used his funds to support the arts approved in the 2020 budget.
“If we have additional funds available, the highest and best use of those funds would be to support our community, our businesses as well as our families, rather than using these funds for our statues,” Hannon said. “Statues do not feed people. Statues do not keep businesses open.”
Mayor Jim Brainard said the statues are part of the city’s economic development plan for the area and that they draw visitors to Carmel, which is good for local businesses.
“We believe it brings in a lot of revenue to the city,” he said.
Councilor Jeff Worrell was part of the majority voting in favor of the ordinance.
“I’m disappointed we’re quibbling over timing when, in my opinion, we’re trying to address a group of our residents who feel disenfranchised,” he said. “When the issue is raised that there are residents in our community who do not feel welcome or who do not believe that our Main Street represents them as well, I want this fixed last week.”
Brainard said he would like to continue diversifying the city’s public art collection by installing work created by minorities. He said the city is working with a Carmel gallery owned by an African American to place pieces by African artists in some of Carmel’s parks, and that an interracial group of Carmel High School students is working to create murals in Monon Greenway tunnels.
Some councilors suggested the city expand its art collection to include works representing other groups in Carmel, such as the Chinese community, disabled residents and veterans.