Years in the making, the 500-pound, 16-foot-tall Statue of Liberty replica commissioned by the Spirit of ’76 Foundation arrived in Santa Barbara on Monday, July 6, and will be unveiled at this weekend’s French Festival in Oak Park. Although the original hope was for “Miss Liberty” to arrive in time for the Fourth of July parade last weekend and then take a temporary, 72-hour post at the mouth of the Santa Barbara Harbor, City Hall was not supportive of that idea, the foundation’s Paul Lamberton explained, so delivery was delayed.
“We hoped that she would greet people symbolically to our harbor in Santa Barbara as she did symbolically greet people to New York Harbor, but the arts commission said ‘no’ because she was not considered to be arty enough,” said Lamberton, who cited critiques that the statue did not speak to Santa Barbara’s culture and wasn’t relevant in this era. “We wanted to remind the community of what Miss Liberty represents to all of us. It was not meant to be a controversial issue, although it has aroused some controversy in Santa Barbara.” He said that he had been hoping for support from the mayor and city councilmembers, but “it was not forthcoming on this issue.” But Lamberton said he opted not to fight tooth-and-nail about it, quipping, “We chose not to draw a line in the sandbar.”
According to the County Arts Commission’s director Ginny Brush, Lamberton’s plan was officially presented months ago to the City of Santa Barbara’s Arts Advisory Committee, which oversees the placement of art in public areas. After Lamberton gave his presentation, the committee gave feedback to the effect that the history of immigration to New York is not the same as that of immigrants’ and settlers’ coming Santa Barbara. Brush also remembers some officials from the harbor being present at the meeting, and that they had reservations about the plan too.
Aside from the aesthetic and historic opposition, Brush said, “The committee had concerns that the project wasn’t fleshed out.” It was not clear who would be responsible; for example there was no mention of the liability issues that are usually addressed in a proposal of this sort. “There was no clear plan for exactly how it would be installed in a way that we could feel confident that it wasn’t a public hazard,” recalled Brush.
But Brush, like everyone else, supports this weekend’s solution. “I think that the French Festival is a fabulous [outcome],” she said. “It’s not a bad way to go.”
And no one is more ecstatic than French Fest director Steve Hoegerman, who said, “What some people forget is that the Statue of Liberty is a gift from the people of France to the people of America, so it makes sense at my French Festival.” He also explained that the frame of the original statue was developed by Gustav Eiffel, inventor of the Eiffel Tower, which also shows up at the French Fest in replica form.
In contrast to the steel and copper of the original, the Miss Liberty replica was constructed with a relatively lightweight polymer substance, said Lamberton, and designed by a third-generation artist whose grandparents came from Poland. And she has eco-friendly features. Explained Lamberton, “In keeping with the need to be environmentally sensitive to be in touch with modern-day realities, the torch will be powered by a solar panel.”
So what will happen to her after the French Fest? “We have not decided for sure where her home will be in Santa Barbara,” said Lamberton, who promised that she’ll be in the Fourth of July parade next year. “But she is going to be a permanent part of Santa Barbara and will make her appearance known from time to time as she is invited to make her presence known.” There have been numerous invitations from people offering permanent residences, said Lamberton, but he explained, “We’re evaluating where would be appropriate for her. We’re concerned about her safety and well-being, so she cannot be [displayed] on a permanent basis at a location without having 24/7 security.” As the man behind the seasonal American flag on the Lobero Theatre, which has been hit with paintball guns and other forms of graffiti over the years, Lamberton said he has “learned from that experience that when you put up patriotic symbols, you need to have 24/7 security.” Now, every year when the flag goes up at the Lobero, they have volunteer security guards working ’round the clock.
Though his harbor hopes were extinguished, Lamberton remains upbeat about this weekend’s debut. He said, “She wants to go and commemorate Bastille Day at the French Festival because the French were very instrumental in American independence in the first place.”