‘Unbelievable’: San Francisco Tribute to Maya Angelou Delayed After Artist Rejected

A planned tribute to Maya Angelou in San Francisco is delayed.

The city wants to put a monument of Angelou in front of the Main Public Library on Larkin Street. A Berkeley artist was selected only to be rejected. Now she feels her time was wasted, saying the expectations were too vague.

Artist Lava Thomas spent months planning and designing the 9-foot bronze monument. It is shaped like a book, featuring a portrait of Angelou and the quote "If one has courage nothing can dim the light that shines from within."

Last year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance asking the arts commission to erect a piece of art at the city's main library, paying tribute to the author, poet and civil rights activist.

A panel selected Thomas and she was honored.

"There aren't very many public monuments even created by women, let alone monuments to women," Thomas said.

But the feeling didn't last long. The arts commission rejected her piece, apparently because it's not a traditional sculpture.

"It was my understanding that we had full reign to interpret what a monument could be, a contemporary monument," Thomas said.

Thomas called the rejection "unbelievable."

"It's ridiculous to waste my time when I'm not given explicit instructions," Thomas said.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani sponsored the ordinance. She provided the following statement Thursday:

“I was incredibly proud to author and pass the ordinance in 2018 that directed the Arts Commission to erect a statue of Maya Angelou at the Main Library. The legislation I wrote was clear that the Maya Angelou statue be a ‘significant figurative representation of Maya Angelou.’

It was my legislative intent as I carried the legislation across the finish line to elevate women in monuments in the same way that men have historically been elevated. It is incredibly important to me that we get this first representation right. If the RFP was not clear on this point, that was not fair to the artists.

The only fair way to move forward is to give all the artists a chance to meet the legislative intent by issuing a new RFP with clear criteria.”

The city will essentially be starting this process over and accepting new proposals. Thomas said she will not be re-submitting.

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