After more than a year of conversation, it’s official: The Theodore Roosevelt statue in front of the American Museum of Natural History is collapsing.
The New York Public Design Commission unanimously voted in a public session Monday to move the statue to a cultural facility dedicated to the life and legacy of the former president through a long-term loan. (No institution has been named yet, and discussions are ongoing about its ultimate destination.)
The vote follows years of protests and negative public reactions to the statue as a symbol of colonialism, largely because of the Native American and African men flanking Roosevelt on horseback. These objections led the museum to propose the removal of the statue in June 2020. New York City, which owns the building and land, agreed to the proposal, and Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed support.
In 2017, a mayors’ commission to review the city’s art, monuments and markings had considered historical research on the statue but failed to reach consensus on its removal.
“Height is power in public art, and Roosevelt’s stature on his noble steed visibly expresses dominance and superiority over Native American and African figures,” the panel wrote in its January 2018 report.
About half of the commission wanted to relocate the sculpture at the time, and about half recommended additional historical research before making a decision. Few members wanted to leave the statue where it was when the context was provided on site.
At Monday’s session, released on YouTube video, Sam Biederman of the New York Department of Parks said that while the statue was “not erected in bad faith,” its composition “supports a thematic framework of colonization and racism.”
The museum had worked with academics and consultants for years, both before and after the statue was considered by the mayor’s monuments commission. In 2019, this research culminated in an exhibition on the context and history of sculpture – and how the public perceived it.
“The understanding of statues and memorials as powerful and hurtful symbols of systemic racism became even clearer in the wake of the racial justice movement that emerged after the assassination of George Floyd,” Dan Slippen, vice president of government relations for the museum, said at the meeting . “It has become clear that removing the statue would be a symbol of progress towards an inclusive and just community.”