Town approves contract for African American Cemetery

By Connor Linskey
Posted 12/23/20

At Thursday’s Montgomery Town Board meeting, the board approved a contract with Vinnie Bagwell to create a conceptual design for a public art installation at the African American Cemetery. The …

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Town approves contract for African American Cemetery


At Thursday’s Montgomery Town Board meeting, the board approved a contract with Vinnie Bagwell to create a conceptual design for a public art installation at the African American Cemetery. The agreement shall be effective upon its mutual acceptance.

This historic African American cemetery consists of at least 171 known grave markers on a .46-acre parcel of land located on the west side of State Route 416 in the Town of Montgomery. This cemetery was established in the 18th century for slaves and used by African Americans through the 19th century, with the earliest grave marker dates from 1756.

Vinnie Bagwell has always been an agent for social, educational and economic growth through the arts in her community. Born in Yonkers and raised in the Town of Greenburgh, Bagwell co-authored a book titled A Study of African-American Life in Yonkers From the Turn of the Century with Harold A. Esannason in 1992. Many followed her compelling articles about the diversity of Yonkers’ organizations, businesses and cultural events in her weekly column for the Herald Statesman/Gannett Suburban Newspapers as well as her provocative news stories in the Harlem Times newspaper.

Bagwell is an untutored artist and began sculpting in 1993. Her first public artwork: The First Lady of Jazz Ella Fitzgerald at the Yonkers Metro-North/Amtrak train station was commissioned by the City of Yonkers in 1996. The life-sized bronze statue is the first sculpture of a contemporary African American woman to be commissioned by a municipality in the United States.
In 2012, Vinnie created a 24-inch bronze, Liberté, for the inaugural exhibition at the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and the piano for August Wilson’s award-winning play, “The Piano Lesson”, at the Signature Theater in New York City. In 2018, the DC Department of General Services commissioned Vinnie’s creation of a life-sized sculpture of music icon Marvin Gaye for a new recreation center in DC and the State of Connecticut commissioned a seven-foot bronze statue of Hartford educator, Walter “Doc” Hurley, which is the first public artwork of a contemporary African American in the State of Connecticut.

Montgomery Town Supervisor Brian Maher noted that the town is excited to work with Bagwell.

“Vinnie Bagwell and her team will be a tremendous asset in revitalizing this historic cemetery,” said Town Supervisor Brian Maher. “Phase 1 will include Hi-Resolution photography including ground penetrating images that will allow us to determine the location of the graves on site, many of which have been mentioned to be former slaves. It is important for us to move forward with a plan to honor the memory of those buried while also educating ourselves and our community. We want to bring their spirit and their stories to life through this project and we believe signing on Vinnie and her team will get us closer to that goal.”

To facilitate the conceptual design at the African American cemetery in the Town of Montgomery, Bagwell will coordinate a preliminary assessment of the burial ground and a ground-penetrating radar survey to detect and map subsurface and archaeological features and patterning. As lead artist, Bagwell will also direct all subcontractors and consultants in the development of the work. She will develop the work for the burial ground’s roadside area including the placement of the controlled path, markers and inner-path destination.
Another one of Bagwell’s duties for this project is to engage stakeholders and the general public in order to collect feedback and affirm direction of the work. Civic engagement activities to introduce the work shall include the development of a 30-day comment period exhibition of the conceptual design. With the prior approval of the Town Supervisor, Bagwell will manage public relations administration, which includes securing print and broadcast news placements.

Bagwell will maintain the work’s maquette(s) until additional funds are identified for the completion of the public artwork. The Town of Montgomery will not seek “delivery” of the work’s artwork but is authorized to utilize the maquette and borrow the concept for public exhibition at the site. The work is subject to final approval by the town board and no further steps beyond the approved scope regarding the implementation of conceptual work shall proceed without prior town board approval.

As per her contract, Bagwell is responsible for identifying any neces-sary subcontractors and will provide all materials, labor, equip-ment, and expenses for travel, planning, implementing and coordinating the project. Subcontractors will be hired with approval from the town board.

Deliverables stated in her contract will include a preliminary concept plan and a revised concept plan based on input from the community. The contract adds that Bagwell will complete her scope of services and the town will receive all deliverables on or before March 15, 2021 or on a mutually agreed upon later date.

Bagwell will receive $15,000 in order to fund the design process. She will earn another $15,000 no later than 30 business days from final approval and acceptance of the work by the town and confirmation that Bagwell has met all terms and conditions of the agreement. The town shall approve or disapprove the work within 30 days of final completion.

Maher is excited to see what Bagwell’s concept plan will look like.

“We hope to continue to engage our community and have Vinnie and her team present the conceptual-design ideas in the next few months,” he said. “Community engagement and education is going to be a big part of this process.”


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