October 09, 2018 at 2:34pm
San Francisco’s board of supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance on September 26 stipulating that at least 30 percent of the city’s public art must depict nonfictional women, in distinction from female figures being used to depict symbols or archetypes, such as Lady Liberty or the Three Graces. Introduced in June 2017, the ordinance’s 30 percent rule applies to statues, as well as to “other works of art on City-owned property, public building names, and street names.” It also marks the creation of a Women’s Recognition Public Art Fund “to accept gifts to pay for the design, construction, repair, maintenance, and improvement to public art depicting historically significant women,” according to the public minutes.
The project’s first monument is slated to be erected at the city’s main library by 2020. It will depict poet and activist Maya Angelou, who in 1944 became the city’s first black woman to work as a streetcar conductor. Of the city’s eighty-seven public statues that portray nonfictional figures, three are of women. The gender disparity in public art is not unique to San Francisco—CityLab reports that in New York’s Central Park none of the twenty statues celebrating historical figures depict women. Among New York’s hundreds of statues, five represent historical women (Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gertrude Stein, Golda Meir, and Joan of Arc).
“I am actually hoping we can get to fifty percent,” said supervisor Catherine Stefani, who sponsored the ordinance and secured funds for the Angelou statue, which the city’s Arts Commission projects will cost around $400,000, with an additional $100,000 for a maintenance endowment.
“Across our nation, women are underrepresented not only in leadership positions but also in public spaces,” Stefani said to the San Francisco Examiner. “The accomplishments of great women deserve to be recognized alongside the accomplishments of great men.”