City Votes to Remove Fountain of the Pioneers

Mar 6, 2018

People lined up to speak about the Fountain of the Pioneers at the Kalamazoo City Commission meeting on Monday.
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

Nearly 80 years after its dedication in Bronson Park, the City of Kalamazoo plans to remove the sculpture and reflecting pools known as the Fountain of the Pioneers.

The fountain is a historic work created by noted sculptor Alfonso Iannelli. But its depiction of a white settler in a position of power over a Native American has led many people to condemn it as racist and as an embodiment of white supremacy.

The city had planned to restore the fountain, while adding information about Native American history, as part of a larger overhaul of the park. But calls to remove the fountain have intensified in the last year. Those who wanted it moved said it had no place in the city’s flagship public space.

The issue drew hours of public comment at Monday’s City Commission meeting.

Natalie Stauffer introduced herself as a member of the Pokagon Potawatomi tribe. “Statues like the one Iannelli designed to sit adjacent to the fountain do not remind-people of life-giving water, but instead promote the memory of harsh and inhumane treatment of Native Americans,” she said.

Others defended the sculpture as a unique and irreplaceable work of art. They said that the city could use it to teach park visitors about the subjugation of Native people. Former Kalamazoo Institute of Arts executive director Jim Bridenstine urged the Commission not to move the fountain.

The Fountain of the Pioneers.

“While the sculpture because of its subject may be viewed as offensive or controversial by many, it’s still a work of art. We have too many examples of works of art created by one generation and destroyed by another,” he said.

The board ultimately voted five-to-one (with one commissioner absent) to remove the fountain and to store the sculpture indefinitely.

The City of Kalamazoo still plans to update the rest of Bronson Park. Officials say they will honor requests to return donations made before the decision to remove the fountain.

The city says it that it does not expect Kalamazoo County, which owns Bronson Park, to intervene in the plan for the sculpture.