New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs revealed five preliminary proposals for a new monument in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to honor of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to be elected to the United States Congress and to run for president. The designs were conceived by the artists Firelei Báez, La Vaughn Belle, Tanda Francis, Mickalene Thomas, and Amanda Williams & Olalekan Jeyifous.
The winning proposal, to be commissioned as part of the She Built NYC initiative, will be selected through the city’s Percent for Art program in early April. Up to $1 million in funds will be available for the chosen project, which will be presented to local community boards and submitted to the Public Design Commission later this year.
Firelei Báez proposed a sculpture of Chisholm, who represented New York’s 12th congressional district from 1969 to 1983, made of hand-painted metal columns. Depending on the viewers’ vantage point, they would see one of three portraits, each reflecting different aspects of Chisholm’s career. The piece would stand between 10 and 15 feet tall, and each image of Chisholm would include allusions to Afro-diasporic narratives.
La Vaughn Belle takes a famous quote by Chisholm as a point of departure: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Belle proposed a sculpture of Chisholm holding a chair and stepping into a reinterpreted presidential seal on the ground.
Tanda Francis envisions a trail lined with Chisholm quotes beginning at the Ocean Avenue entrance of Prospect Park. The path would lead to a large-scale bronze rendering of Chisholm’s face, surrounded by jets of water and light. Her artist’s statement describes the idea as “a colossal dedication which the people of New York City and the world will seek out and know of our commitment to honoring the women who helped build New York.”
Mickalene Thomas imagines a human-scale sculpture of Chisholm seated atop a car. Benches around the monument would encourage engagement and interaction from visitors, and nearby planters would contain plants that refer to the politician’s Caribbean heritage. About her proposal, Thomas wrote, “Rather than portraying Shirley standing at a podium and speaking down to her audience, this model will instead show her rooted in the peoples’ space and speaking to their truths.” She added, “This is ultimately about the visibility of everyone in the community.”
Finally, a construction by Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous would entwine Chisholm’s silhouette with the outline of the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building. Nodding to the layout of Congressional seating, an amphitheater-like shape would wrap around the monument.
The public can comment on the proposals at women.nyc through March 31.
Cultural Affairs commissioner Tom Finkelpearl said in a statement, “We were thrilled to announce Shirley Chisholm as the first person honored, and we’re excited to get a first look at what these artists are envisioning for this lasting testament to Chisholm’s trailblazing achievements. We invite all New Yorkers to let us know what they think and help shape this landmark contribution to NYC’s public space.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, “Shirley Chisholm, a true daughter of Brooklyn, born of West Indian immigrants who settled in Bedford-Stuyvesant, was one of this nation’s greatest dreamers. A monument of this magnitude, dedicated to the first person in 192 years to embody the triple threat of being black, a woman, and a representative of Congress, is most deserving of this lasting recognition. It is long overdue.”