Ron Pizzuti: Defending the Columbus Statue
The Columbus arts benefactor discusses Black art, artistic icons and why the city shouldn't have removed the Christopher Columbus statue.
Ron Pizzuti has strong opinions on public art—and the city hasn’t always agreed with them. Nearly a decade ago, the Columbus developer and renowned art collector launched a campaign to bring a new artistic landmark to the Downtown riverfront: a six-story, hourglass-shaped steel sculpture called Columbiad. Pizzuti viewed the proposal as a chance to create a new Columbus icon, but the idea died as others scoffed at its resemblance to a nuclear cooling tower and its multimillion-dollar price tag.
Today, Pizzuti is again on a contrarian island. As the city begins to envision a new, more inclusive public artwork to replace a problematic one, Pizzuti is defending the banished monument. “What would I do to replace the Christopher Columbus statue? I would replace it with a Christopher Columbus statue,” say Pizzuti, who has focused his collecting on minority artists in recent years, especially Black artists like Nick Cave, Zanele Muholi, Hank Willis Thomas and Kehinde Wiley. Pizzuti says the statue is part of the city’s history, for good or bad, and a reminder of where many people came from. “As an Italian American, I can relate to that probably more than other people can,” he says.
Recently, Columbus Monthly spoke with Pizzuti about the statue, Black art and the importance of creating artistic “balance” in Columbus. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Why do you think the Columbus statue shouldn’t have been removed?
He’s our city’s namesake. Can you ignore all the hated things he did? No, you can’t do that. However, I think it’s important not to replace, but to expand.
But many people, especially people of color and Indigenous people, view the statue as an insult and a celebration of bigotry and genocide.
I think you can’t avoid history. It’s not a glamorous part of our history. We’re certainly not proud of it. But I think Christopher Columbus should come back. I think the statue should be re-erected. But I also think that balance has to take place. We need to create some balance to counteract it.
How can the city create that balance? Given your strong relationships with many prominent Black artists, are you looking into commissioning or bringing to Columbus a significant piece from an artist of color?
Absolutely. We definitely will. We will definitely bring some very strong Black art to the community.
Do you envision this as a permanent public art installation?
We’re working on an opportunity for some permanent art.
Back when you were promoting Columbiad in 2011, you were critical of the city’s public art efforts. Has your opinion changed?
I basically have the same opinion. We’ve taken baby steps. We are the largest city in America without a really comprehensive, important public art program. And I think today, public art is even more important than it was then.
Do you still want to see a new signature public artwork?
I’d like to see something that tells the world what we are. We’re the most important city in the state of Ohio. We’re now the largest city in the state of Ohio. I thank the Lord every day that I moved here. I moved here because of a job and boy, am I happy to be here now.