Virginia Governor Ralph Northam wants to redesign Monument Avenue, a promenade in the capital city of Richmond lined with shrines to Confederate generals—and he’s tasked the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts with the job.
Included in Northam’s budget proposal for next year is $25 million earmarked for historic justice initiatives, $11 million of which is dedicated to overhauling the avenue. The goal, he said in a statement last week, is to “help Virginia tell the true story of our past and continue building an inclusive future.”
Seven Confederate statues in Richmond, including four on Monument Avenue, were toppled by activists this summer during the protests over the murder of George Floyd. The last remaining monument on the mall, an infamous 14-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which has come to symbolize the fight over historical statuary across the country, is slated to be removed in early 2021, the governor previously announced.
“At a time when this Commonwealth and country are grappling with how to present a more complete and honest picture of our complex history, we must work to enhance public spaces that have long been neglected and shine light on previously untold stories,” Northam continued.
Should the proposed funding be approved, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will launch a community-driven initiative to reimagine the avenue—potentially with new artist-designed statues—and hire staff dedicated to overseeing the effort.
“This is potentially a model for other parts of Virginia, other parts of the United States, [and] other parts of the world as people struggle with monuments—when to create them, when to take them down,” the museum’s director, Alex Nyerges, told the . “What we hope is to create a vision that unites us and brings us together.”
With more Confederate statues than any other state, Virginia has been at the center of the monument debate. In June, protesters covered huge swaths of the Robert E. Lee statue in graffiti; projected onto it images of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of racial violence; and tried, in vain, to topple it by force.
On June 4, Northam ordered the removal of the statue. Days later, a judge blocked the state from acting after a group of residents filed a lawsuit against the governor. A circuit judge ruled in favor of Northam this fall, but now he must wait as the residents appeal the case to the state’s supreme court.
Northam’s 2021 budget proposal also includes $9 million in funding for the creation of a Slavery Heritage Site in Richmond, and $5 million to repatriate tombstones that stood in a historic black cemetery in Washington, DC, before being removed for a commercial land development.