When Paul Dipasquale built a statue in honor of Arthur Ashe, he didn’t know that it would be one of the last still standing on Richmond’s Monument Avenue 24 years later. The street lined with looming monuments has become a subject of controversy because most of the statues honor the “lost cause” of the Confederacy. As others are taken down, Paul reflects on the legacy of the monument he created that continues to stand.
“Monument Avenue is a long avenue. There’s plenty of room for other heroes,” Paul shares. “And I think the value of public art is it reflects the thinking of the culture at the time.”
Meet Paul: sculptor
(aerial shots panning over Monument Avenue)
Aria Swarr (narrator and producer): In Richmond, Virginia, there’s a controversial street called Monument Avenue with giant statues, primarily honoring the lost cause of the Confederacy. Recently, due to widespread protest, these statues have started to come down, but another very different statue still stands on Monument Avenue.
In the 1990s, a monument was built to honor Arthur Ashe, legendary tennis player, world champion, author, and humanitarian. The sculptor of Arthur Ashe’s statue, and my long-time neighbor, Paul Dipasquale talks to me in his backyard, explaining how the statue came to be nearly the last one standing on Monument Avenue.
Paul Dipasquale: I met him in ’92. It was right after Mr. Ashe announced publicly that he had contracted AIDS from a tumor operation blood transfusion. Created in my mind what looked like a social need to recognize this native son of Richmond and of Virginia. Born and raised here who was an international star and world champion three times over.
(pan over shot of newspaper clippings about Arthur Ashe)
I mean, I knew him from high school, watching videos or seeing him in Time magazine. I sent the letter, and I answered the phone and he asked for me and said, “This is Arthur Ashe calling.” After almost dropping the phone, I took notes.
I said, “What would you like your message to be at this time in your life?” He said, “Well, I would like to be as I am today,” which of course was dying of AIDS. He said, “I want to be in tennis warmups.” But the first thing he said is, “I would like children to be involved in some way, either one child or several children, children are our future.” He said, “I want books to be showcased. I want the message to be that knowledge is power. And my shoelaces would be untied.” He said, “And I suppose a tennis racket should be in there somewhere. And I don’t want to be the center of attention,” Which is — all right, how do we do a monument to somebody who’s not the center of attention?
(images of early sketches of monument for Arthur Ashe)
So Monument Avenue didn’t seem to fit. The question changed from why put Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue to why shouldn’t we put Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue? He’s a modern-day hero, born and bred in Richmond, Virginia. Why wouldn’t we put him on Monument Avenue to honor this man and update Monument Avenue?
Well, here it is 24 years later, the other monuments that belong to the city are now down, all the four Confederates are down and the last one, General Lee. The governor wants General Lee taken down as well for safety, as well as to change the message of Monument Avenue. The message of Monument Avenue is Arthur Ashe stands on Monument Avenue.
Monument Avenue is a long avenue. There’s plenty of room for other heroes, there’s plenty of room for other art. And I think the value of public art is it reflects the thinking of the culture at the time.
(Shot of newspaper clipping with headline that reads: How Will Richmond Be Known?)
Monument Avenue is changing, and we don’t know where it’s headed, but we do know that Arthur Ashe stands on it, now he may be moved to what’s considered a better place. We simply have to wait and see.
Aria: Arthur Ashe said, “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”