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Public Art Under Review

Examining equity and representation in the City's collection through public dialogue.

How do we ensure that Boston’s public art reflects the diversity of people, histories, and perspectives in our city? The Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture is:

  1. cataloging the City’s art collection, and
  2. creating an educational online database.

By evaluating these artworks, we can understand what is missing, and which artworks need to be reexamined. As part of this process, we seek public input in assessing our monuments and memorials. Community conversations will inform the Boston Art Commission’s review of current and future artworks.

Have questions? Contact:

Arts and Culture
ROOM 802
BOSTON, MA 02201-2029

Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Latest News

Photo of The Emancipation Group, a copy of a statue in Washington D.C. created by Thomas Ball, photo courtesy of the Boston Art Commission.

City of Boston to remove the Emancipation Group statue after Boston Art Commission vote

Arts and Culture
Photo of The Emancipation Group

An opportunity for change

Arts and Culture

Role of the Boston Art Commission

The Boston Art Commission (BAC) commissions and maintains the City's art collection, according to its curatorial mission. The BAC must approve all permanent and temporary artworks on City property.

In 2017, the BAC established a deaccession policy, which is the formal removal of an artwork from the City’s collection after careful deliberation. The BAC may also vote to:

  • move an artwork to storage
  • loan artwork to an institution
  • commission artists to respond to existing artworks, or
  • support public interpretation, events, and learning related to the City’s public art.

In 2018, the BAC commissioned An Opportunity for Change. This is a report on the national dialogue surrounding monuments and its relevance to Boston’s public art collection. It included an overview of how other cities have tackled this issue, and a summary of six local monuments.

Read the report

Artwork under review

Artwork under review

"Emancipation Group" was installed in 1879 in Park Square. It is a copy of a monument created by Thomas Ball in Washington D.C. in 1874, and was a gift to the City by Moses Kimball, a local politician. Ball’s statue depicts Abraham Lincoln, whose right hand rests on the Emancipation Proclamation. His left is raised in a gesture of benediction above the crouched figure of Archer Alexander, an African American ex-slave. There is an inscription on the front of the piece that reads, "A race set free/ and the country at peace / Lincoln / Rests from his labors.”

"Emancipation Group" has been criticized since installation for its visual representation of Archer Alexander as the “passive recipient of Lincoln’s gift of freedom.” Many have recently called for its removal due to its racist depiction of an African American person. Many also feel it implies that one person ended slavery.

From Kirk Savage’s "Molding Emancipation: John Quincy Adams Ward's "The Freedman" and the Meaning of the Civil War." (Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 27, no. 1 (2001): 26-101. Accessed June 15, 2020. doi:10.2307/4102837)

The Emancipation Group

Public dialogue

This public dialogue began with an online survey and a series of public meetings for public testimony on "The Emancipation Group," a copy of a sculpture in Washington D.C. by Thomas Ball. The meetings were held virtually on June 25, 2020 and June 30, 2020.

The deadline to take the survey has passed.

Following public testimony, the Boston Art Commission unanimously voted to remove the bronze figurative elements of "The Emancipation Group". The commission will continue this conversation at its next meeting on July 14, 2020.