What Happens to a Public Statue After It’s Toppled by Protesters?

Until this summer, Kristin Calhoun, director of public art for the Regional Arts & Culture Council, never had to remove a statue knocked down by Portland citizens. Now, it’s become an almost regular occurrence.

A toppled statue of Theodore Roosevelt on the South Park Blocks. (Alex Wittwer)

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On Sunday night, Kristin Calhoun got a text message alerting her that she'd have an unexpectedly busy Monday—protesters had just knocked down two statues in the South Park Blocks, one of Theodore Roosevelt on horseback and another of Abraham Lincoln.

As director of public art for the Regional Arts & Culture Council, Calhoun has had to organize the removal of many statues and sculptures around Portland for cleanings, routine maintenance and construction projects. Until this summer, though, she'd never had to remove a statue toppled by citizens.

Now, it's become an almost regular occurrence.

In June, demonstrators removed a Thomas Jefferson statue from the front steps of North Portland's Jefferson High School. A few days later, a George Washington statue in Northeast Portland was torn down. The Elk in downtown became a symbol of the protests, but was removed by RACC after fires lit by protesters damaged its base.

Related: Portland Architecture Blog Visits the Elk Statue in Storage, Confirms It Wasn't Actually Destroyed by Protesters.

Then last night, Teddy and Abe were literally pushed off their pedestals. Both were removed on Sunday as part of a protest organizers dubbed "the Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage," held on the eve of Indigenous Peoples Day and what's still recognized by the federal government as Columbus Day. Participants tagged the base of Lincoln's statue with "Dakota 38," a reference to 38 Dakota men hanged with Lincoln's approval, the largest government-sanctioned execution in U.S. history. (Abe personally spared 265 others.)

On Monday, Calhoun and her team were in the Park Blocks, figuring out how to get two bronze statues that weigh thousands of pounds each onto trucks and into storage. WW talked to Calhoun about what that took, and the secret storage facilities that now house all Portland's fallen monuments.

See more Distant Voices interviews here.

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