NYC approves design for Shirley Chisholm monument in Prospect Park

July 18, 2023

Renderings courtesy of Amanda Williams and Olalekan B. Jeyifous/ NYC Public Design Commission

New York City this week approved the design for a monument to Shirley Chisholm, a Brooklyn native who became the first Black woman to serve in the United States Congress. The city’s Public Design Commission on Monday unanimously approved plans for the monument: a 32-foot-tall sculpture depicting the congresswoman designed by artists Amanda Williams and Olalekan B. Jeyifous installed at the southeast entrance of Prospect Park. The artists were selected for the monument’s design in 2019, but the process was delayed because of the pandemic.

Born in 1924 in Brooklyn, Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, representing the state’s 12th congressional district, which included her hometown of Bed-Stuy. In 1972, she became the first woman to pursue the Democratic presidential nomination. The monument will commemorate her legacy as a trailblazer for women in politics.

While approaching the Prospect Park entrance at Parkside Avenue and Ocean Avenue, visitors will see a silhouette of Chisholm interlaced with the dome of the U.S. Capitol building. According to the artists, the composite profile “symbolizes how she disrupted the perception of who has the right to occupy such institutions and to be an embodiment for democracy.” The monument, they say, reflects how “Chisholm’s collaborative ideals were larger than herself.”

The yellow and green monument includes images of plants from Barbados, where Chisholm spent ages five through nine, including wild geranium, American chestnut, and Peacock flowers, also known as the Pride of Barbados. The ground surrounding the monument is excavated to resemble the layout of the congressional floor.

Following prior feedback, Williams and Jeyifous scaled down their original design and updated the proposal to meet accessibility requirements. The new installation is eight feet shorter than the initial design and the proposed fencing and sunken elements like seats and a ramp have been removed.

During a Public Design Commission meeting on Monday, Williams spoke about the possibility of using natural metal finishes and patinas in the monument’s design as opposed to painted steel. The commissioners recommended the use of bronze, which patinas due to touch, and would serve as a way of “expressing people’s engagement with the piece.”

“This is the most exciting project I’ve seen since being commissioner because it’s so powerful,” Jimmy Van Bramer, a member of the Public Design Commission and former city council member, said. “Shirley Chisholm is such an incredibly important and powerful figure in politics, government, activism, and Black power in elected office. For it to be this grand on this scale in this place seems so perfect and fitting.”

Van Bramer continued: “This could also be a place in the future where people say, ‘let’s meet here,’ and many powerful political rallies, marches, and events will happen in and around this space. I imagine that Shirley Chisholm would love that idea.”

In November 2018, the city said it would commission a permanent statue of Chisholm to be built in Brooklyn as the first monument under She Built NYC, a $10 million initiative with a mission of diversifying the city’s sculptures and monuments. At the time, 90 percent of statues in the city were dedicated to men.

Williams and Jeyifous’ design was selected out of dozens of different proposals from esteemed artists. The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art program selected five final designs and invited the public to share their opinion.

This design was selected in 2019 with plans for installation by 2020 but the project was delayed due to the pandemic.


Renderings courtesy of Amanda Williams and Olalekan B. Jeyifous/ NYC Public Design Commission

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