New Leesburg Mural Approved; 3 COPA Members Dismissed

The Leesburg Town Council on Tuesday night approved a new Black history mural to be painted on the wall of the Loudoun Museum building on the town hall campus.

The council also voted to remove three members of the Commission on Public Art who stirred controversy by walking out of a meeting to prevent the panel from formally endorsing the artwork.

The mural was proposed last spring by Carmen Felder, president of the 89 Ways to Give Foundation, to highlight the Underground Railroad as area residents helped fleeing enslaved people find safety across the Potomac River.

The initial version of the proposal drew criticism for prominently featuring Harriet Tubman, although she was not active in Loudoun. A revised design depicts two local residents—Bazil Newman, a prominent Black landowner and ferry operator, and Black abolitionist Leonard Grimes. There also was debate about whether the museum building was a suitable place for the mural and whether a projection, rather than a painting, of the image would be better suited for that property.

During a review of the latest design at the June 6 COPA, three members who raised concerns about the artistic integrity and the historical accuracy of the image walked out of the meeting, leaving the panel without a quorum required to transact business. 

Council members supporting the mural said the artwork highlights an important part of history that isn’t being told in the community. 

Councilman Zach Cummings said it was “abhorrent” that the Underground Railroad has not been recognized locally and “insulting” that no marker has been installed at the county courthouse, which has been designated as an Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site by the National Park Service. 

As for the vote to remove the three members of the commission, council members said dissenting ideas are welcome, but it was wrong to be disrespectful to the applicant and their colleagues. 

“It was in bad form. It was insulting and it is something I cannot condone,” Vice Mayor Marty Martinez said.

Addressing the council before the mural vote, COPA members Minu Beijan and James Garofalo detailed their critical concerns about the mural based on their experiences as artists.

Member Kareem McCullough, who had raised concerns about the historical accuracy of the image, said he was the one who suggested the walkout and asked that he alone be punished. That appeal won over only Councilwoman Suzanne Fox, who voted against removing Beijan and Garofalo.

Several council members said they regretted taking the action, but could not support a “toxic” environment on the advisory panel.

“The Commission on Public Art should be one of the most joyful commissions we have in town,” Councilman Neil Steinberg said.

Councilman Ara Bagdasarian was absent for the meeting.

The latest version of the approved Loudoun Museum mural depicts local residents helping with the Underground Railroad.

6 thoughts on “New Leesburg Mural Approved; 3 COPA Members Dismissed

  • 2022-06-29 at 8:02 am

    It’s sad that controversy flows everywhere in society today — even in the Arts. But I think Leesburg made the right decision. The panel members were too much of a distraction. I wish them well in their future endeavors. Now, Leesburg can move forward with creating beautiful murals for the town. I have so many ideas. Stay tuned!

  • 2022-06-29 at 8:40 am

    And with this mural, as well as, the recent road name changes, racism has not been eradicated in this county. Whew. Good thing our elected officials and government employees made such activities a high priority.

    Black history is celebrated for one month at a time, like many others. Why does the Loudoun Museum have a permanent black history mural versus a mural that celebrates ALL of Loudoun history, regardless of color. Will there be a Pride history mural coming to a government building, funded by the taxpayers, soon? Hispanic history? Women history? I guess anything is acceptable except for accomplishments from white male colonialists….what did they do for this country?

  • 2022-06-30 at 11:51 am

    Wow Leesburg councils
    arrogance is ratcheting up. it may soon be competitive with the Loudoun BoS.

  • 2022-07-01 at 3:35 pm

    The unsolicited proposal for a Black History mural to be placed on a historic building owned by the Town was approved despite the concerns expressed by the Friends of Thomas Balch Library Black History Committee, the Loudoun Museum, members of the Commission on Public Arts and the public. The three members of the commission were removed because they dared to engage in peaceful protest by leaving a meeting and causing it to be canceled. The Town council criticized the actions of the three members as disruptive and finding them not worthy to serve.
    I spoke at the meeting to support the three commission members who should have kept their positions as peaceful protest is a legitimate part of our political landscape. It’s obvious that the “Good Trouble” lessons from Dr. MLK jr and John Lewis have not been shared with this council.
    The many years of neglect relating to Black History in Leesburg cannot be overcome by ignoring the local voices that have fought for generations to achieve social and educational justice.
    It’s too bad that the leadership of Leesburg wasted a valuable opportunity to celebrate history and instead continued the practice of distorting black history for economic gain. The real interpretation of history through art is more than a tourism scheme
    This is a blight on this Council.

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