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The long struggle for a Maya Angelou statue in SF starts again

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San Francisco has only has three statues honoring nonfictional women

A rendering of a statue depicting two figures, one a young girl with a book and the other an older woman with a typewriter.
One of three designs considered but not chosen in 2019, necessitating a do-over this year.
Courtesy of SF Arts Commission

The late poet Maya Angelou said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them,” which is the kind of steadfast wisdom that backers of a plan to raise a statue of Angelou in SF may have to rely on as they once again slog into the midst of conflict in 2020.

First emerging in 2017, the idea of an Angelous enjoyed broad support from lawmakers and denizens.

But the plan fell apart in 2019 after City Hall honchos could not agree on a design, and the Visual Arts Committee chose none of the three finalists, rendering the effort moot.

Now the entire process returns to square one, with a new timetable for 2020 and renewed hope of success for this relatively straightforward but nevertheless elusive notion presented at a Library Commission meeting in December.

Per that presentation, first reported by the San Francisco Examiner, the proposal will commission a “three-dimensional sculptural figurative representation”—language carefully chosen to circumvent the aesthetic arguments that tanked last year’s designs—with artists submitting proposals through March and finalists chosen that same month.

The Arts Commission will hopefully give full approval in July.

Previously, the installation was budgeted at $180,000, with an unveiling date of December 2020 that’s now extended to at least 2021, more than four years after the original proposal.

Angelou was born in Missouri but moved to San Francisco in the 1940s, residing here for most of her life and literary career. On top of her success and critical honors as a writer and activist, she’s also remembered as the first black woman to work as a cable car operator in SF.

Although San Francisco has dozens of statues on public display, only three commemorate specific women of historic note—Senator Dianne Feinstein, the city’s first female mayor, whose bust can be found at City Hall; nurse Florence Nightingale, found outside Laguna Honda Hospital; and artist Georgia O’Keeffe in Sidney Walton Square.

In 2018 the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to create new monuments commemorating women, with the Angelou project a flag-bearer for the plan.