KALAMAZOO, Mich. – The Kalamazoo City Commission is planning to meet tonight at 7 p.m. in the city commission chambers to consider a recommendation to remove a controversial fountain from Bronson Park.
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.
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.”
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.
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.