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Arkansas commission members clash over abortion monument funding

Lakey Goff presented this artistic rendering of the proposed monument, with flower boxes on both sides.
Courtesy Photo
Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission
Artist Lakey Goff feels funding for the concave wall of plants will come, while members of the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission were skeptical.

A state commission continues its work to develop a “Monument to The Unborn” on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol. Recently, confusion has sprung up over how to keep the monument funded and maintained.

In a meeting Tuesday, artist Lakey Goff, was determined to work out the logistical problems with the monument, while architect and Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission member Tony Leraris says the problems are bigger than she realizes.

Last year, the state legislature passed a lawto put a memorial for aborted fetuses on the Capitol grounds. The memorial is supposed to celebrate the effective end of legal abortion in Arkansas after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Per the law, the monument is required to be funded through private donations, but says the Secretary of State can use other money from “maintenance and repair of monuments” if no other funds exist. It’s unclear how this would work since the state doesn't have a set fund for monument maintenance.

A public art contest allowed any local to submit a design. Last year, artist Lakey Goff was chosen. She wants the memorial to be a “living wall” of plants, saying the design was inspired by a living wall in New York City. The wall is set to be a concave half-circle, with constant audio of Arkansas waterfalls and a plaque with a Bible verse. She wants the memorial to be a “healing” and “life-giving space.”

Goff presented her plans to the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission again on Tuesday. At previous meetings, the design has been met with logistical concerns. Members of the commission pointed out that the monument is not handicap accessible as is legally required. Goff said they could “simply” install a sidewalk to make it wheelchair accessible.

“When we talk about handicapped spaces,” she said. “I just want people to know that Jesus is still healing people and setting people free.”

Others voiced concerns the wall would cost too much money to maintain and wouldn't fare well in Arkansas' inconsistent climate. There are maintenance crews on the Capitol grounds who hypothetically could tend the wall, although these plans aren’t set in stone. Goff proposed paying someone to maintain the wall twice a week, including in winter months. Architect and commission member Tony Leraris said she was getting ahead of herself, since there hasn't been any significant fundraising to pay for the wall.

“I think all of this is well and good,” he said. “But from the examples you've shown us, Ms. Goff, I think somebody waltzing along twice a week to care for these things, I can't imagine the maintenance it's going to take. And I just wonder how the state is going to pay for it or how the money is going to be raised,” he said.

Goff said she has a spiritual belief that the money for the monument would come.

“There is more than enough money,” she said. “This project is funded by heaven... so if we can get out of that lack mentality of 'Oh, there's not enough money to create something beautiful and new.' Oh yes, there is.”

Leraris asked if she could guarantee that the money would come.

“Yes,” she said. “I can guarantee it because this is a new thing that God is doing here at the State Capitol.” Goff said the passage of the bill creating the monument is evidence of that.

“Ma’am, that has nothing to do with it,” Leraris said. “I think there is a tremendous amount of money that still has to be raised. There is a tremendous amount of maintenance to keep this up, and we all think the money is going to fall from heaven.”

Goff said Leraris needed to “change his perspective," advising him to look at “the vision as a whole.” She went through a presentation of other living walls across the world, in countries like France, Slovenia and the United Arab Emirates. Goff felt that, if those countries could build living walls, Arkansas could too.

“Some of these questions of how in the world are we going to get 14,000 plants to stay alive,” she said. “Well, they're doing it all over the world.” She said her proposed wall had far fewer plants than a living wall in Dubai with 80,000 plants.

“Dubai is an incredibly wealthy [city],” Leraris said. “That has untold amounts of money to spend on anything. Arkansas is poor as any state could be, so if you think you can pull it off and heaven is going to come through with the money, then God bless you.”

Goff said she “received” Leraris’ response and that she is excited to keep working on the monument.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.
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