Last month, Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam made the city of Portland an offer it could definitely refuse: If Portland arts officials didn’t want to reinstall statues of former U.S. presidents toppled by protesters, Sandy would erect them instead.
It was a campaign stunt—Pulliam is running for Oregon governor as a Republican—and poorly timed: The morning before Pulliam’s press conference decrying the vandalism, someone tore apart a guerrilla art installation atop Mount Tabor depicting York, a Black explorer. That act of destruction largely eclipsed Pulliam’s announcement.
But he followed through. Correspondence obtained by WW shows that Sandy city officials contacted Portland arts officials about obtaining statues—and were told to get in line with other people who want them.
Pulliam’s demand for a statue exchange was sonorous. “It is unconscionable that these symbols of virtue and American exceptionalism remain spray-painted and locked away because a handful of insurgent mischief makers have hijacked Oregon’s largest city,” Pulliam said July 28. “We should celebrate the things that should be celebrated, and learn from the things that shouldn’t. A statue can do both.”
By contrast, the tone of the official inquiry Aug. 17 was a little sheepish.
“The Council was not unanimous on the idea but they asked staff to reach out to see if it was even possible before further discussions,” wrote Jordan Wheeler, Sandy’s city manager. “I suspect not, at least not immediately. I believe the [Regional Arts & Culture Council] is reviewing the statues under the newly updated policy on public art and would need to follow a deaccession process.”
As WW previously reported, Portland has adopted a new public monuments policy that says public artworks can be removed if the “subject or impact of an artwork is significantly at odds with values of antiracism, equity, inclusion.” That imperils the prospects of restoring statues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
Portland’s arts program manager, Jeff Hawthorne, replied to Wheeler and said Sandy’s request would be placed with others.
“You should also know that several different organizations have expressed a similar interest in these statues,” Hawthorne wrote, “so just want to alert you that the city of Sandy would not be the de facto recipient in the event these statues are deaccessioned.”
WW asked Hawthorne: Who else expressed interest?
“Oh, folks like the Freemasons, and several individuals,” he replied. “Many from out of state. RACC is keeping a list.”
Here is the email exchange between Wheeler and Hawthorne:
I’m reaching out on behalf of Sandy’s City Council regarding the statues (Presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt, Washington) that have been placed in storage. As you may have seen or read, the Sandy Mayor proposed the idea of the City of Sandy acquiring the statutes for display and the Council discussed the idea at their meeting last night. The Council was not unanimous on the idea but they asked staff to reach out to see if it was even possible before further discussions.
I suspect not, at least not immediately. I believe the RACC is reviewing the statues under the newly updated policy on public art and would need to follow a deaccession process.
But any information you can provide or direct me to the right contact at the City or RACC would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time.
City of Sandy
Thanks for writing. You are correct about the process, and I’d be happy to be a contact going forward. You could also reach out to Heather Nelson Kent at RACC (cc:ed here) for more information about their process and expected timelines for recommendations. The other Heather cc:ed here is our Public Information Officer, Heather Hafer.
You should also know that several different organizations have expressed a similar interest in these statues, so just want to alert you that the City of Sandy would not be the de-facto recipient in the event these statues are deaccessioned.
Jeff Hawthorne (he/him)
Arts Program Manager
City of Portland