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City revives ‘She Built NYC,’ launches open call for artists to design four statues of women

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New York City is reviving a campaign to honor influential women integral to the city’s history with monuments. Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday announced the city will resume the She Built NYC initiative, which includes building new statues of Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías in the Bronx, Elizabeth Jennings Graham in Manhattan, Billie Holiday in Queens, and Katherine Walker on Staten Island. The four projects were announced in 2019 but were delayed due to the pandemic and never reached the first phase of planning.

“As we close out Women’s History Month, we remember that every day is an opportunity to celebrate the women who have led and built New York City into the greatest city in the world,” Adams said.

“These extraordinary women saved lives, challenged racial and gender barriers, and overcame all odds to become leaders in each of their respective fields. Today, I’m proud that their legacy will forever be enshrined through public monuments across the five boroughs — open to all New Yorkers to see, learn, and understand their impact on our city.”

The projects are part of She Built NYC, a $10 million initiative launched in 2018 that focused on better representing influential women across the city’s statues and monuments. Despite there being nearly 150 monuments across the five boroughs, only eight feature women. As part of the initiative, the city commissioned five public monuments, one for each borough, to honor women’s history in NYC.

In July, progress was made on the initiative when the city’s Public Design Commission unanimously approved plans for a monument honoring Shirley Chisholm, a Brooklyn native who became the first Black woman to serve in the United States Congress. Designed by artists Amanda Williams and Olalekan B. Jeyifous, the monument will stand at the southeast entrance to Prospect Park.

The city launched an open call for artists interested in designing the four remaining monuments, which will be commissioned through the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) “Percent for Art” program.

A monument honoring Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías will be placed in an area at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, where she was a pioneer in reproductive rights and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.

Trías was the first Latinx director of the American Public Health Association and received the Presidential Citizen’s Medal for her work. While her long and storied career contains countless highlights, one of the most significant is her influence on regulations that empowered low-income and minority women.

Another statue honoring activist Elizabeth Jennings Graham will be installed next to Grand Central Terminal. A century before the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, Graham refused to leave a segregated streetcar until she was forcibly removed by police.

Her courageous action was the first step in ending segregation in the city’s public transit system. The monument of Graham will be located close to the route of the streetcar in which she challenged the discriminatory policy.

The statue of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday will be installed at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center. While born in Philadelphia, Holiday moved to Harlem and started singing in nightclubs as a teenager, where she quickly became a pioneer in the genre and one of the most celebrated vocalists of all time.

A monument honoring Katherine Walker will be installed as part of the ongoing development of Staten Island’s North Shore. Walker is remembered as the keeper of the Robbins Reef Lighthouse for 35 years and is credited with saving the lives of at least 50 people and guiding ships to safe passage between Staten Island and New Jersey. Walker is one of the only female lighthouse keepers in United States history.

The city also announced that work will resume on a monument honoring transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera in Manhattan. First announced in 2019, plans for the monument will be announced at a future date.

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