City OKs Jefferson Center's free speech wall
City Council on March 19 approved a "community chalkboard,"
proposed by U.Va.'s Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection
of Free Expression as a monument to free speech. The vote was
3-1 with one abstention, giving the center a three-year lease
that must be renewed annually thereafter.
monument designed by U.Va. alumni Peter O'Shea, a faculty
member in the landscape
architecture department, and Robert B. Winstead is
envisioned as a 50- to 70-foot-long, 7-foot-high blackboard with
large chalk trays, fronted by a speaker's podium, to be located
across from City Hall at the east end of the Downtown Mall. Passers-by
will be free to write their own messages, or may comment upon
or even erase those written by others.
proposal won a contest sponsored by the center, but City Council
must approve the final design before it is built.
debate over the chalkboard drew media attention from BBC radio,
the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun, among others. Supporters
including such noted locals as actress Sissy Spacek, poet
and U.Va. English
faculty member Rita Dove and writer Rita Mae Brown lauded
the monument for its creativity in actively incorporating speech
into the design. Detractors feared that the chalkboard would become
a public forum for obscenity and hate speech. The debate itself
became a lesson in the role of free expression in public policy-making,
noted J. Joshua Wheeler, associate director of the center.
Jefferson Center's next step is raising the $200,000 needed
to build and maintain the monument, a process Wheeler estimated
would take up to two years.