Meeting Minutes – June 2, 2021

City of Syracuse Heritage Park Advisory Commission

Meeting Minutes

June 2, 2021

The meeting was held via Zoom and was called to order at 3:32 pm.

Introduction.  A CM began the meeting stating they hope this meeting will provide clarity and a good review of discussions with individual Commission members.  A CM welcomed the Commission, once again thanking members for dedicating time to an important, time sensitive matter.  A CM stated he is happy to keep this process moving along as the issue has been unfairly colored by a small group of people.  A CM asked for a moment of recognition for the 215 Indigenous children found in mass graves on the grounds of a former residential school in Canada.  The CM also reminded members that Heritage Park will be situated on the unceded land of the Onondaga.  Another CM reminded members that minutes from the previous meeting were sent out, urging anyone with corrections or amendments to please share them.  A CM’s idea involving a globe and nations’ flags was mentioned, as it was not included in the previous minutes. 

Clarification: A CM began by distinguishing this commission, the Heritage Park Commission, from the Italian American Task Force, which is tasked with redesigning the Italian American monument (existing fountain basin) and the relocation of the Columbus Monument.  The CM stated that the new Heritage Park will encompass the existing Columbus Circle site and the adjacent Powelson site, though Columbus Monument footprint remains the purview of the Task Force.  The ultimate goal is to have Heritage Park operate as a space that more fully celebrates Italian American heritage, as Columbus Circle was originally intended to do, while also celebrating the rest of our city’s marginalized communities.  The space will also acknowledge the oppression faced by all groups, though some members of this commission would like to use language other than “oppression” i.e., barriers to success, obstacles to assimilation.  Most members have indicated they would rather highlight contributions and the celebratory aspect of the park, but recognize the need to acknowledge the oppression as well. 

The CM then stated they believe the work of the Italian-American Task Force and this Commission should inform each other, allowing for a connection between the two groups.  Both groups are working from the guidelines provided by the Columbus Monument Action Group.  Another CM provided information on the work done so far by the Italian-American Task Force.  The CM spoke about Clarkson University’s augmented reality project focused on Syracuse’s Columbus Circle.  Augmented Reality generally uses smart phones or tablets and includes audio and visual components.   A visitor to Heritage Park could view the park through the screen on their phone, using their camera as if they were taking a video.  The application would then add visual or audio components to what the user sees by placing them in the surrounding environment.  For example, if the Monument is removed you could view the empty pedestal through your phone and the app could make it seem like the Monument were still on the pedestal. A CM concluded by saying this commission must produce content for a think book to give to an artist, using concise, simple language.  

Updates. A CM informed the Commission that the working name for the reimagined space is Heritage Park.  They also stated that the Italian-American Task Force has had two meetings, with that group focusing on the educational content surrounding Columbus and the relocation/modification of existing monument.  Another CM clarified, stating that there will be two separate RFPs: 1 for the modification of the monument, and 1 for the rest of the park.

A CM provided background information on Columbus Monuments around the world.  The U.S. has the most Columbus statues (95) in the world, and more than 1/3 of those have been removed or are slated to be removed.  Many that have been removed are in storage without plans for relocation, and at least 7 were previously vandalized or pulled down.  The CM believes Syracuse is at the forefront of this issue as this Commission has been acting proactively, rather than in a reactionary manner.  Some of the municipalities that have removed their monuments have similar plans to Heritage Park, or are using this as an opportunity to acknowledge social and racial equity.

Commission members offered examples of monuments and parks they would like to emulate: the new bronze statue “Angel Unawares” in St. Peter’s Square was mentioned for its simplicity and beauty, the monument in Ireland that acknowledges the aid offered by the Lenape during the Potato Famine for its recognizability, The Tower of Reconciliation in Tulsa City, Oklahoma, the Maya Lin Vietnam Memorial, the lynching victims memorial at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, and the Dr. King Center in Atlanta, Georgia for its water element.  A CM reiterated that Heritage Park does not need to have a statue, and that a monument can be abstract.  

A CM suggested this group craft a mission statement or phrase exemplifying Heritage Park’s meeting.  A small subcommittee group will convene to discuss this.

Next Steps. A CM stated this Commission would like to seek public input by the end of July.  This will be done using a variety of methods from in-person to newspaper ads and by setting up website to receive direct input.  A CM informed the Commission that the deadline to post in the Nation Newspaper has passed, so the Commission should we aware of other deadlines.  CMs hope to use resources at the Skä·noñh – Great Law of Peace Center to supplement the Onondaga component.

Multiple CMs asked for clarification on the RFP process.  An RFP is a Request for Proposal, or a specific request of goods and services to be provided.  In this context, it is a City of Syracuse process, and the Management Team will create the actual document.  A CM also reminded the Commission that they have received copies of the recommendations from the Columbus Circle Action Group.

A CM reminded the Commission of the setting of Heritage Park.  As it is in a busy downtown area, a contemplative or abstract monument might be difficult to fully appreciate.  The CM also realized that a landscaping component could change the environment, making it more welcoming and peaceful.  Another CM also stated that an audio component (music) should not be ruled out.  Another CM mentioned that giving an artist simple ideas and keywords, while allowing space for artistic freedom is key in producing meaningful content.  A broad scope is better than limiting the artist.  Those same CMs mentioned the idea of Heritage Park having a component that functions differently in the daytime and nighttime.  Multiple CMs appreciated the idea of having a garden component.  A CM explored the possibility of allowing different cultures to hold events at different times of the year at the Park.  Another CM echoed this, bringing up the Festival of Nations again, which the Commission is in support of.

These minutes respectfully submitted to the Heritage Park Advisory Commission

Chris Melfi

Support Services Administrator-Onondaga Historical Association