President’s Letter, August 2017

Monthly observations and insights from MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein

August 31, 2017

The summer season doesn’t officially end for another month, but the functional, post-vacation, pre-school summer comes to a close this week. This summer has felt “hotter” than any summer in recent memory. The issues that have arisen all over the United States echo here in New York City.

The East River rising as Superstorm Sandy approaches Manhattan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, David Shankbone.
The East River rising as Superstorm Sandy approaches Manhattan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, David Shankbone.

I am sure I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the events in Charlottesville and Houston. The crisis in Houston continues to unfold and the reverberations of Charlottesville seem to go from very bad to worse each day. It has felt like this distant tempest and turmoil are happening here, they are so immediate and pressing.

Hurricane Harvey is a vivid reminder that New York City is not immune to the devastating impacts of natural disaster. Our hearts go out to those who are suffering in Houston and the other areas hit so hard by Harvey.

Almost five years after Superstorm Sandy the city is modestly better prepared but the reality is that many people are still living in harm’s way. If we are going to be better equipped to handle the impacts that climate change will bring, its super storms and storm surge, sea level rise and intensified heat island, then where we live and how we live needs to evolve. It is scary and unpleasant to confront this reality as we are enjoying stunning late summer weather. But all we need to do is turn to the pictures of Houston, to know that complacency is not an option.

The ramifications of Charlottesville are being strongly felt everywhere, and here in New York City is no exception. Here there has been a flurry of debate about what public sculptures should remain and what should be modified or removed entirely. These issues are complicated and have already engendered strong feelings and words.

There is no question that a deep, thoughtful discussion about what role public art, especially representational sculpture, and monuments should serve, is vital. The Mayor has chosen a wise course by proposing a task force to review all public monuments. Hopefully, it will be made up of experts and normal citizens alike. The task force will have many tools at its disposal while it considers the issues at hand. To date, the conversation has tended to pit removal against preservation, but reinterpretation and new signage present valuable opportunities.

A thoughtful dialogue that seeks many points of view, and balances those views with our values as a city that embraces its diversity, prides itself on tolerance, and seeks to understand the perspective of history, will make the conclusions ones that make the city stronger.

So, as summer slides into fall there is no question, we have our collective work cut out for us. I have no doubt New Yorkers will rise to the occasion.

Elizabeth's signature

Elizabeth Goldstein
The Municipal Art Society of New York

children play on the shore near the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Giles Ashford.

MAS is proud to fight alongside you for a city where growth is balanced and character endures.