Ashland council OKs Black lives statue

Sep. 22—A public art piece designed to memorialize Black lives lost to racially motivated violence was approved Tuesday by Ashland City Council — with conditions.

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission and artist Micah BlackLight will review the statue's site in Ashland Creek Park to ensure the most beneficial position for the sculpture has been chosen.

Then at least two public presentations will be hosted by the Ashland Public Arts Commission to allow for public dialogue. The concept will have a final review and approval for quality by the commission, and there will be a close study of installation requirements by Ashland Parks and Recreation and Public Works.

When BlackLight described the piece and intentions behind its design to the council Tuesday, he brought the atmosphere inside the council chambers to something that Mayor Julie Akins referred to as "taking us to church."

"We all know that T-shirts can only last but so long," he said, saying the piece, called "Ancestor's Future: Crystallizing Our Call" carries on the intention behind the "Say Their Names" T-shirt installation in Railroad Park.

Especially, he said, the names of Black and Brown people who have lost their lives to racial violence ... should not fade like a hashtag or a passing fad. The sculpture's design, he explained, features a winged figure seated on the ground with a book in its lap.

"I wanted to make sure that every name, so far as I could — I went down and documented all of them — is included. In that book, all those names will be etched. That's what that book is for."

He said the seated figure wears clothing designed to be futuristic, to invoke the idea that an ancestor, perhaps George Floyd, could come back to Earth to witness social change and healing. Colored stones surrounding the piece will be painted by any community members who want to be involved.

Councilor Tonya Graham said she was influenced by BlackLight's religious tone.

"A good sermon both comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. I think art can do the same thing. There are, of course, pieces of art that are beautiful, and that's fantastic. But I think art at its most powerful causes us to pause, and to think and, hopefully for a moment, to connect with the lived experience with another human being," she said.

"This is what we needed as Black folks — a place to gather and be with our allies," said Councilor Gina DuQuenne.

"The social relevance is tremendous," said Andy Stallman, former chair of the Public Arts Commission, who spoke at Tuesday's meeting. "I fully support City Council's approval of this project and believe this is also a very appropriate time to reexamine the process for accepting additions into Ashland's public arts collection."

After the council voted unanimously in support of the piece, Akins called for a 5-minute break. During that time, councilors left their seats to congratulate BlackLight and members of the Public Arts Commission who were there in support. There were hugs and tears — and it was a joyful release of emotion, BlackLight said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.