Leesburg Council to Review Art Guidelines; Appoint COPA Replacements

As the recently approved Black history mural continues to stir controversy, the Leesburg Town Council tonight is scheduled to review the policies for considering similar public art proposals in the future. 

The council on June 28 approved a mural to be painted on the side of the Loudoun Museum building, which is owned by the town. 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 mural design faced criticism from artists and historians who objected to the imagery and historical accuracy. The council’s approval of the mural came with the dismissal of three members of the Commission on Public Art who walked out of a meeting rather than endorse the artwork. On Tuesday, the council is slated to appoint three replacements to those seats.

The controversy continues after that vote. 

The Loudoun Museum Board of Directors continues to oppose the project.  

“The Loudoun Museum has been consistent in our opposition to any mural painted on the museum’s building, a historic structure made from old brick molded by enslaved hands. At the same time, we understand and support the need to celebrate Loudoun’s rich Black history,” the board said in a statement issued following the council’s vote. “To this end we have suggested and offered support for numerous options highlighting these achievements, including support for digital and other non-permanent murals. With the council’s vote to approve a Black History mural on our building’s east wall, we defer to the Black History Committee on the mural’s content and to COPA on its design. Our expectation is that any mural painted on the building will be historically accurate so that we can continue to successfully execute our mission: to preserve and interpret the history of Loudoun County. Anything less is a disservice to the legacy of those who dared greatly to make a difference in the lives of so many in Loudoun’s Black community.”

And former Town Council member Ron Campbell launched a moveon.org petition drive seeking to pressure the council to reverse its vote. “The neglect of celebrating Black History in Leesburg cannot be overcome by ignoring the local voices that have fought for generations to achieve social and economic justice,” Campbell wrote in the petition. “… The town council of Leesburg wasted a valuable opportunity to celebrate history and instead continued the practice of distorting black history for economic gain.” As of Monday afternoon, the petition had 101 of the 200 signatures identified as the goal.

During its Monday night work session, the council is scheduled to review the town’s Public Art Guidelines that were adopted in 2008 to guide the process for developing public art works in town. While the guidelines lay out the detailed steps town leaders should follow to propose an art project and solicit artists who could submit proposals in response, the policy does not address how to process unsolicited proposals, such as Felder’s.

During its business meeting Tuesday night, the council is expected to approve three replacements to fill the vacant Commission on Public Arts seats. The candidates are Kirsten Ponticelli, Deborah Morbeto, and Huyen MacMichael.

4 thoughts on “Leesburg Council to Review Art Guidelines; Appoint COPA Replacements

  • 2022-07-11 at 5:41 pm

    I think the approved mural will be a fine addition to Leesburg’s streetscape. Please don’t get caught up in technicalities. This is a mural, not the Declaration of Independence. If the creator exercises some artistic license, so be it. The main thing is to let a beautiful piece of art grace Leesburg. Let’s not get paralyzed into inaction. Happy Summer Loudoun!

    • 2022-07-14 at 12:21 pm

      Timmy!, please make and post a video of yourself rowing a boat that way.
      I imagine it would be as entertaining as the construction of (most) of your posts.
      Happy Pandemonium/National Mac and Cheese Day! (I am not making this up)

  • 2022-07-12 at 10:15 am

    This whole escapade looks more like an article from the Babylon Bee rather than an event in real life. I would suggest that the town council ends their involvement with this project and ask a group of elementary school students to assume responsibility for the mural. It’s time to let saner heads prevail and clearly there aren’t any on the town council.

  • 2022-07-20 at 11:07 am

    Yes, let’s ruin an historic building that the BoDs of the museum does not want. The building itself is historic, and now let’s paint over it with inaccurate history, but call it an “artistic license.” Why is it so hard to push back on the artist for an accurate depiction of Loudoun history versus rushing through a vote, while also firing 3 people who disagreed. Welcome to the new liberal controlled Loudoun folks! You have to agree with them, or you get cancelled and lose your job.

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