Milk memorial committee seeks funds
by Matthew S. Bajko
As the artists creating a memorial to the late Supervisor Harvey Milk finalize their design, the committee overseeing the project is seeking donors to help pay for the unveiling ceremony next month.
The Harvey Milk City Hall Memorial Committee needs to raise $10,000 to cover the costs of the event, scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. in City Hall Thursday, May 22, on what would have been Milk's 78th birthday.
A bronze bust of Milk will be installed in the building's ceremonial rotunda a few feet away from the entrance to the Board of Supervisors chambers. It is believed to be the first time such a tribute to an LGBT leader will be placed in a seat of government in the United States.
Milk became the first openly gay person elected to public office in a major U.S. city when he won his supervisor race in November 1977. A year later former board colleague Dan White gunned down Milk and Mayor George Moscone in their City Hall offices.
Over the last 30 years a school, branch library, a public plaza, and a recreation center in the city have been named after Milk. But friends and admirers of the gay politician have long sought to see Milk honored inside the building he spent years trying to win entrance to through the electoral process. The effort to place a bust of Milk in City Hall began in 2003, but foundered for several years as fundraising came up short.
The bust became a reality in 2006 when the Bob Ross Foundation donated $74,250 to the project. Ross was the late publisher and co-founder of the Bay Area Reporter who hired Milk to pen political columns for the paper in the early 1970s.
As the B.A.R. reported earlier this month, the final hurdle for the committee was securing the bust's location in the spot it favored atop City Hall's grand staircase. It took Mayor Gavin Newsom's stepping in to see that it will be placed under the second floor ceremonial rotunda.
"The vision always was to create a place of pilgrimage. I think it will finally dawn on people we finally have one," said committee co-chair Dan Nicoletta. "It will draw people to the building, which has more impact than the bust itself. That sense of hope in the political process and the grandeur of the building really translates into a realization that important stuff is going on here."
The bust will sit atop a pedestal of solid autumn brown colored granite from Minnesota with Optima regular typeface for the text and real gold-leaf infill. Rob Firmin, a partner in the Daub Firmin Hendrickson Sculpture Group selected to create the memorial, said it weighs in at 2,200 pounds.
As for getting it to its second floor place of honor in City Hall, Firmin said the memorial "is heavy, but not large. It should fit in an elevator."
Firmin said he and his partners have been working with city engineers to develop a proper lighting effect for the memorial. The main issue, said Firmin, is ensuring shadows do not obscure the work.
"A sculpture can be brought out to its full potential aesthetically with proper lighting and it can also be illuminated poorly and lose much of its aesthetic value," he said, adding that the new lighting "avoids having shadows in the wrong places."
Very little has changed since the public voted last year to select the winning memorial design. Recently, members of the committee traveled to the sculptors' East Bay studio to review the final models prior to casting. They noted some problems with the clothing of marchers at a candlelight vigil held the night of Milk's death depicted in one panel.
And the group also asked for a tummy tuck on Milk in another panel where he is shown riding a car during a gay freedom day march.
"He is going to lose some of the weight before it is cast in bronze," said Joey Cain, the committee's co-chair. "We had an extensive discussion on the dress of the marchers and if the clothes looked like what people wore in the 1970s. We had a group of three queens going over the outfits."
Firmin added, "It wasn't a debate; the committee members just updated our knowledge about 1970s fashion."
The unveiling ceremony next month is free and open to the public. It will feature friends of Milk's, local dignitaries, several special guests and the Gay Men's Chorus, whose first public performance was the night of Milk's death.
Cain said the mayor's office is waiving the $20,000 fee the city normally charges to rent City Hall. Yet the party is still expected to cost $30,000, including $8,000 to pay for janitors and security employed by the city; $7,000 to staff the event; and $10,000 for sound equipment. Supervisor Tom Ammiano is working on covering some of the cost to pay for city hall staff, said Cain.
"We have about $20,000 in the bank and need another $10,000," said Cain.
Donations can be made online at http://www.milkmemorial.org or by calling Cain at (415) 861-7609.