Commission approves plan for MLK memorial

The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts approved the final design for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall last week, after several months of debate over the sculpture’s appearance.

The plan for the $120 million memorial, which will feature a 28-foot statue of the civil rights leader on the northwest shore of the Tidal Basin, was initially approved early last year. The National Park Service, however, introduced a slightly different model in April, which was criticized for being reminiscent of totalitarian leader statues and did not receive the necessary approval of the commission.

“We told them, ‘What you’re bringing forward has changed,'” said Thomas Luebke, the commission’s secretary, referring to the controversial design.

He issued a letter to Regional National Parks Director Joseph Lawler, which outlined specific aspects of the design that needed to be changed in order for it to receive approval.

The commission expressed concern that the new design portrayed King as “static in pose, confrontational in character” and compared it to statues of foreign dictators.

“In general, the commission members found that the colossal scale and Social Realist style of the proposed statue recalls a genre of political sculpture that has recently been pulled down in other countries,” the letter read.

Luebke said the commission reviewed two new designs at its meeting on Sept. 18 and agreed upon a new, less controversial draft.

“The long process of approval by the commission goes stage-by-stage,” Luebke said. “But we have given final approval for the design.”

Construction is scheduled to begin this fall, and the project is slated to be completed by 2010.

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