Town Hall Meeting Tackles Artistic Replacement For Former Site Of Confederate Statue In Gainesville

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County Commissioners met virtually Tuesday to address renaming and replacing symbols of racism and colonialism within Alachua County.

The county released a Call to Artists in February to create for the West Lawn of the County Administration Building art that would “reflect the shared values and aspirations of the community” on a 12’x12’ concrete slab on the southeast corner of University Avenue and Main Street.

An artist or artist team’s creation would replace a statue removed in 2017 that honored Confederate soldiers’ lives lost in the Civil War. After seeing the pieces submitted for review, the board set a motion to have the art council run a contest for a new concept of the piece.

Commissioner Mike Byerly was ready to vote on one of the submitted pieces, mentioning that the decision for the art piece has taken almost two years, but Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson disagreed.

“I don’t want to disparage any of the artists here,” Hutchinson said. “…but I do think that none of it quite for me captured the essence of what I think we’re looking for, both for that space and for the times that we’re in right now.”

Due to the budget of $40,000 being set aside for this piece, a few members of the board expressed involving the community for the final concept of the sculpture. This decision is meant to promote the idea of unity and harmony, which is what the sculpture is supposed to embody.

Hutchinson believes that there is clearer vision set forth for the artists willing to submit their work after the scope of the project has been chosen by the contest winner.

Along with the search for a new statue, the board reviewed the renaming of Camp McConnell near Micanopy.

The Alachua County Historical Commission recommended renaming Camp McConnell in consultation with the Seminole tribe. According to Kathleen Pagan, the staff liaison to the county historical commission, it has passed a motion of renaming Camp McConnell to Camp Cuscowilla.

While the historical attributes were appreciated, the concerns around the word ‘camp’ were answered by Gina Peebles the assistant county manager.

“I’ve had conversations with former camp operators and they had concerns about the word camp,” Peebles said. “…it really limits the scope that people do tend to think of children’s summer camp.

“…use something along the lines of retreat or education center,” she said, “so that it’s more widely accepted.”

Due to this, the board’s final decision rendered Cuscowilla the place name allowing activities such as park, cultural center and educational center to be added on when appropriate.

The Alachua County Commission tackled numerous other tasks including the former Fairgrounds site lease to the U.S Army Reserve, proclaiming July as “Disability Awareness Month” in the county, as well as reviewing COVID-19 data.

Paul Myers, the administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, displayed a presentation to the board about cases as well as long-term care statistics. As of Wednesday, Alachua County is at 2,173 confirmed cases, with about 50 to 100 cases being added daily.

“We (Alachua County) are doing much better than the state as whole,” Myers said.

While the county is taking coronavirus testing and treatment day by day, Myers reiterates that flattening the curve is a group effort. Accountability is a huge factor in how the coronavirus will spread and this honor system is what will determine the future of COVID-19.

(Information courtesy of the Alachua County Health Department)

About Melody Ocasio

Melody is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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