Planners behind the drive to erect a sculpture of Marian Anderson in her hometown are casting about for potential artists and, for the first time, have outlined a detailed timeline for completion of the project.
On Sunday — the 125th anniversary of Anderson’s birth — the project will begin soliciting RFQs (requests for qualifications) from artists interested in submitting proposals to design the piece.
In the meantime, fund-raising has progressed, reaching about a third of the amount needed, and a benefit concert organized by opera star Denyce Graves is in the planning stages.
“It’s full steam ahead,” said Fred Stein, one of the project’s organizers. “We are so optimistic about public input, and our artistic research, to assure that every facet of our community is not only participating but also ultimately thrilled with the outcome.”
The sculpture honoring the Philadelphia contralto and civil rights leader would be the first permanent “named African American female’s likeness to be honored in sculptural form in the City of Philadelphia,” the RFQ states. The goal is to “display a strong likeness of Marian Anderson, capture the powerful and gifted spirit of the contralto as well as her energy as a civil rights trailblazer and her dignity in the face of injustice.”
Planned to be sited outside of the Academy of Music, the sculpture is already envisioned as being cast by the artist in traditional bronze.
”It obviously needs to be someone quite experienced already in the field of figurative sculpture, and it needs to be a beautiful likeness of Marian Anderson,” said Theresa Rose, the Philadelphia art consultant working with the project.
RFQs are due by May 1 and semifinalists will be chosen by late May. Finalists are expected to present proposals in September, with an artist to be selected later that month.
A dedication is projected for late spring or early summer of 2023.
The winning artist and design will be determined on the basis of “artistic merit, technical proficiency, and likeness to Marian Anderson,” the RFQ says, with long-term maintenance, durability, and public safety concerns also defined as major selection criteria.
Artists of color and female artists are strongly encouraged to apply. “It would be ideal to have someone who is both,” said Rose.
Anderson, who died in 1993 at age 96, is perhaps best known for a 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial organized after being turned away from Constitution Hall because of her race. She was widely adored as a song recitalist and was the first Black artist in a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera.
Philadelphia has raised the idea of a sculpture in her honor for years, but the current effort took shape after publication of a November 2020 Inquirer column advocating the idea.
The total budget for the project is $1.3 million, said Stein, of which $465,000 is already raised. That sum includes not only costs associated with designing and fabricating the sculpture, but also an endowment for upkeep once it is built and the start of an endowment fund for the Marian Anderson Historical Society and Museum, the South Philadelphia house museum devoted to Anderson.
The sculpture at Broad and Locust is being planned with special lighting as well as some kind of sound element.
The winning commission will be chosen by a jury that is still being assembled. A separate advisory committee will also contribute expertise and opinions.
The public will have the chance to have its say at a certain juncture in the process by voting online on proposals prepared by the semifinalists.
The artist and exact style are still undetermined, but the RFQ says planners are sure they want a “representative figurative” depiction of the singer rather than something more abstract.
Said Rose: “This will be the first African American woman in sculptural form [in Center City], so we want people to be able to recognize her.”