Statue of Burns planned

Private group seeks OK to put monument at Inner Harbor

December 17, 2008|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,

Less than two months after a city art panel approved plans for a statue of former Mayor William Donald Schaefer to rise on the west shore of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, another local group is seeking permission to erect a nearby statue to Schaefer's successor, former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns.

Baltimore's Public Art Commission is scheduled to meet today to consider a proposal to erect a statue of Burns on city-owned land between the Light Street pavilion of Harborplace and the Maryland Science Center, but closer to the science center.

A nonprofit group headed by Burns' great-nephew, Sean Burns, is raising funds for the statue by Maryland artist Simmie Knox.

Its plans call for Burns' figure to be visible from the Inner Harbor promenade, facing toward the harbor and the downtown skyline.

City and state officials have committed to help the group pay for the $600,000 project.

Burns made history as Baltimore's first African-American mayor, but even so, earning a spot in the city's marquee location is no sure thing.

The Schaefer statue did not win immediate approval because the original donor wanted the work to be centrally located between the two Harborplace pavilions. It was eventually approved for a less prominent site south of the Light Street pavilion.

Anne Perkins, chairwoman of the art commission, said the panel is concerned that any gift to the city be appropriate for the site under consideration in terms of its subject matter and aesthetic quality.

"We think it's wonderful that people want to give gifts of art to the city and ... honor someone important to the city," she said. "But we also want to be enthusiastic about the work of art and how it presents the subject matter.

"What we really want is that we, as citizens, are all proud" of the result.

Perkins added that the panel is working to develop a set of recommendations that will help guide decisions about future proposals for mayoral statues.

Burns held the city's top position for 11 months in 1987. A one-time high school locker room attendant from East Baltimore, he was president of the Baltimore City Council when Schaefer became governor, so Burns automatically became mayor.

Burns then ran for a four-year term but was defeated in the September 1987 primary election by Kurt L. Schmoke. Burns died in 2003 at age 84.

The statue is one of several projects planned by the Clarence H. Du Burns Memorial Fund, an organization founded in 2006. Sean Burns, an attorney with the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, is the fund's chairman and chief executive officer.

Sean Burns could not be reached for comment. But on the fund's Web site,, he writes that the fund is also building an endowment to pay for other initiatives to carry on Burns' legacy, including a graduate and undergraduate fellowship program and a scholars program for high school students, especially "individuals who desire to pursue careers in the public sector."

The Baltimore City Council has allocated $200,000 for the proposed statue of Burns, and in 2007, the General Assembly set aside $100,000 for it.

Legislation allocating the money says the memorial will be 10 feet tall and will be donated to the city for placement on public land.

The state funds require a private match before they can be used.

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