When I first spied them from a distance in 2016, I stopped in my tracks. The giant words, shimmering in the shifting light, could be seen for blocks in downtown Austin.
Were the words, taken from the Pledge of Allegiance, meant to be a political statement during a presidential election? Or were they a restatement of flagging idealism within the context of the American experiment?
The title of Jim Hodges’ work that lines the rooftop space of the Contemporary Austin Jones Center at Congress Avenue and West Seventh Street offers a hint: "With Liberty and Justice for All (A Work in Progress)." Indeed, such bedrock notions as "all men are created equal" are constantly evolving while they are challenged daily, even by those who wear patriotism like a consecrated body of armor.
Given the public debates raging about liberty and justice as they apply to the months-long coronavirus crisis as well as the recent weeks-long protests of police brutality and systemic racism, Hodges’ piece is like a banner in the sky reminding of our collective best selves.
Alas, the Contemporary Austin does not own it outright.
"We need to raise $1.5 million to purchase the piece," says museum spokeswoman Nicole Chism Griffin. "As of now, we are about half way to that goal, including the approximately $550,000 raised in gifts and pledges at last year's Art Dinner. Anyone who would like to contribute to the acquisition can do so online at thecontemporaryaustin.org/donate."
If you give, note that you want the money to go to this virtual torch of liberty.
Many of Austin’s museums, theaters and concert halls are still closed.
At least we can take comfort in the soaring words outside.
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