Stand Tall, Stand Loud
Artist: Aaron Bell
Date of Action: August 2021
Region: North America
Location: New York City
Confronting Bodies: New York City Department of Parks & Recreation
Description of Artwork: Aaron Bell's Stand Tall, Stand Loud, is a sixteen-foot tall Cor-ten steel sculpture located in Riverside Park, New York City. The sculpture is composed of a stylized figure and a noose with a slash through it in place of a head. Bell's proposed design was selected by the Art Students League for Model to Monument (M2M), a public art program administered in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Bell, who is African American, conceived the sculpture as a statement against hate and bigotry. The sculpture's base is inscribed with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter."
The Incident: A public art coordinator for city parks, Jennifer Lantzas, contacted Parks staff with concerns that "the image of the noose could be problematic for the borough" (Ginia Bellafante, NYTimes May 27, 2016). Parks spokesman Sam Biederman said that Bell's project was rejected because the site, near West 68th Street in Riverside Park, "is adjacent to an area regularly programmed with passive recreational activities such as yoga, Pilates and senior movement." Bell was told to remove the noose element or forfeit the opportunity to install the sculpture; the M2M committee did not honor his repeated requests to explain or defend his concept. The sculpture was initially installed on schedule but with an alternative head element.
Results of Incident: The NYC Parks Department reversed its decision to censor the sculpture after protests by NCAC and the involvement of attorney Norman Siegel on behalf of the artist. The noose element was fabricated in Cor-ten steel. It was installed on July 20, 2016.