Kalamazoo to consider removing controversial fountain from Bronson Park

Posted at 4:45 PM, Mar 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-01 22:40:55-05

KALAMAZOO, Mich. - The Kalamazoo City Commission will consider a recommendation next week to remove a controversial fountain from Bronson Park.

The next commission meeting in Monday, March 5.  City Manager Jim Ritsema is recommending the removal of the Fountain of the Pioneers from the park and to store artistically significant pieces until they find a more suitable venue.

The Fountain of the Pioneers has attracted attention since a master plan was approved in 2016.  The fountain includes a representation of a European settler with a weapon in his hand towering over a Native American.

“People have different interpretations of it," said Jeff Chamberlain, deputy Kalamazoo City Manager. "It does have a white individual, a pioneer, facing west and a Native American individual facing east and the Native American is at a lower level than the pioneer and over time it’s been represented as basically, the westward expansion of the pioneers and the resistance of the Native Americans that were here first.”

Chamberlain says the statue is not consistent with the future of Kalamazoo.

"The decision as made by the city administration to recommend that it's time for this piece of art at this time to find a new home," Chamberlain said.

In Ritsema's recommendation, he says that "many see the fountain as an important piece of 20th century art capturing a dark chapter of our country’s history. Others view it is a painful reminder of injustice and a symbol of inequality or supremacy."

He says that Bronson Park is often referred to as "Kalamazoo's Front Porch" and that front porch should be welcoming to all.

You can read his entire statement below:

Full Statement from City Manager Jim Ritsema:

Since the approval of the Bronson Park Master Plan in 2016, we have carefully listened to the many voices sharing their perspectives about Bronson Park’s fountain (often referred to as the Fountain of the Pioneers) – its meaning, its history, and what it represents. The passion with which so many have spoken or written makes it clear how important this issue is to our community.

Many see the fountain as an important piece of 20th century art capturing a dark chapter of our country’s history. Others view it is a painful reminder of injustice and a symbol of inequality or supremacy.

Works of art invite interpretation. They often challenge our thinking and explore uncomfortable ideas or topics. Each of us may experience them differently. While this can make a work of art powerful and moving, it also means that not all works of art are suited for display in all public spaces, for all times.

Bronson Park is often referred to as Kalamazoo’s front porch. Our front porch must be a place where everyone feels welcome, comfortable, and included.

Therefore, City of Kalamazoo staff recommends the removal of the fountain and its pools from Bronson Park, and that a new plan be developed for the space it currently inhabits.

We believe this recommendation closely aligns with our Shared Prosperity efforts as well as our community’s aspirations of racial healing and equity. This proposal also underscores Kalamazoo’s commitment to a positive future for everyone.

If this recommendation is approved by the City Commission on March 5, the fountain and pools will be removed from Bronson Park this year. The installment’s significant artistic pieces will be placed in storage until a suitable venue is identified.

The remaining recommendations of the Bronson Park Master Plan can proceed, with the newly open area available for possible future amenities such as a new fountain, children’s play area, expanded seating for the stage, or other possibilities to be developed with community input. Staff will continue to partner with the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians and other Native Americans in the region to ensure their history is accurately portrayed in the Park and other educational venues.

Current Bronson Park 21st Century Capital Campaign donors will be contacted to explain this new course of action, solicit their continued support, and ensure donations are handled appropriately.

This recommendation is not made lightly and we understand that not everyone will agree. Our position is that Bronson Park and the entire City of Kalamazoo must be a welcoming place for everyone – and our front porch is open to all.