The story so far: I proposed installing a memorial to Bill Finger in Poe Park.
What happened next:
Jonathan Kuhn, Director of Art & Antiquities in the NYC Parks department, strikes me as a sharp, candid guy. I’d wager he knows more than anyone else about the history of New York parks (and the history of the history commemorated within them). He has the tone of a man used to fielding the same questions again and again over years—patient with an underlying irritation. Yet he kindly devoted time to me until I better understood the nuances of the parks system policy on installing monuments.
The policy, generally speaking, is this: no.
In Kuhn’s 22 years in the monuments division, 30 sculptures have been installed. I didn’t know if that is a lot or a little; apparently, it’s a little. Kuhn said that for years, NYC Parks has been moving away from sculptures due to factors including maintenance costs.
In other words, it’s not me, it’s them.
I inquired about the possibility of putting a small memorial to Bill inside the Poe Park Visitor Center, but that, too, is under NYC Parks jurisdiction.
I mentioned Milwaukee, where fans raised more than $85,000 for a statue of the Fonz from Happy Days. Thousands turned up for its unveiling.
meeting the Bronze Fonz, 2011
I mentioned Detroit, where fans raised more than $56,000 for a statue of Robocop. (Robocop. He doesn’t come close to the iconic status of even Batman’s supporting characters.)
Kuhn said that the NYC Public Design Commission in NYC considers pop culture-related sculptures in other cities to be bad examples of public art. (To be clear, I am not proposing a statue of Batman or even Bill Finger but rather an artistic tribute to Bill Finger.)
More facts I was fascinated to learn about New York and monuments:
- they do monuments only for people who are already widely known (“Think Gandhi”)
- certain people who got a monument then “became a trivia question,” prompting certain other people to request that such monuments be removed
- the potential to boost tourism is not a consideration in greenlighting a monument
- all park monuments are funded privately and endowed in perpetuity
- it’s easier to install a monument on private property
- it’s prohibited for monuments to include copyrighted characters (Central Park is home to a statue of Alice in Wonderland, but those characters are public domain)
The first criterion does not resonate with me because there are people whose names are not household but whose accomplishments are known worldwide. (For example, quick—who invented the cell phone? Sneakers? Pizza delivery?) I don’t remember the exact words of Kuhn’s response, but the gist was “Even still…”
Kuhn repeatedly said that New York has been home to many notable people and moments. (I would love to see a list of people who have been proposed and rejected.) More than once he cited singer Rosemary Clooney [aunt of actor George Clooney...who played Batman]. Kuhn said Clooney gave her first concert in Poe Park...and has no monument there.
He meant this as a reason to justify not approving a monument to Bill Finger in the same park, though that also did not resonate with me, for two reasons.
First, the cultural impact of Bill’s creations clearly exceeds the impact of the contributions of some of the “many notable people.” I know Rosemary Clooney was a beloved performer in her day, but today, is her name as well known or her influence as pervasively felt as Batman’s? (I’m not saying she’s a trivia question, but Batman debuted in 1939 and grows more popular with each new generation.)
Second, that fact that many notable people have made history in New York should not factor into any individual decisions. If someone deemed more notable has not been nominated, that should have no bearing on a nomination for Bill—or anyone else. I’m not suggesting “first come, first served.” I’m simply suggesting that each person be evaluated in and of himself, not in contrast to any number of others who could sustain a monument.
This reminds me of a yearly phenomenon regarding the Best Picture Academy Award nominations; there is always an underdog and always at least one “snubbed” film—but that is not the underdog’s fault.
Also, according to the NYC Parks site itself, “Rosemary Clooney is reported [emphasis mine] to have made her public debut at the Poe Park bandstand.” I don’t know how they don’t know for sure if Clooney indeed performed there, but we have multiple published sources for Bill’s connection to the park, including Bill himself.
I feel it is short-sighted for the NYC Parks system to decline Bill Finger in large part because they did not already know who he was. I provided what I objectively feel is substantial evidence why he deserves a memorial in New York—and it should have been enough even if I had just said “He was the main mind behind Batman.” Such a memorial would have deep meaning for many.
As of now, I am pursuing four other options, three in New York, and all of which you’ll read about here before long.
Part 3 (the proposal itself).