Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood has long been considered one of the city’s more eccentric areas — home to artists and hippies and an annual summer solstice parade populated by political floats and nude bicyclists.
But like much of Seattle, the self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe” isn’t entirely what it used to be. Coffee shops, small restaurants, a “working” rocket, a giant troll and the left-leaning counter-culture now share space with a good chunk of Seattle’s tech scene. Offices for companies big and small line the streets near the Ship Canal and Burke-Gilman Trail. Google, Adobe, Tableau, Outreach, Pixvana and GeekWire, among others, are part of the hub of activity.
Standing in the middle of it all is a statue that has always done its job of attracting second looks. And now, in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville, Va., and a statue’s place in clashes that occurred there last weekend, a well-known Silicon Valley venture capitalist is drawing new attention to Seattle’s often controversial sculpture, suggesting that it should be removed.
The 16-foot tall bronze sculpture of Russian Communist revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin has stood in Fremont since 1995. According to the Fremont website, it was acquired by an American veteran named Lewis Carpenter who was teaching in Poprad, Slovakia.
The statue was toppled during the 1989 revolution in the former Czechoslovakia that overthrew the Communist Party. Carpenter found it in a scrap yard and worked to get it back to the Seattle area because he was impressed by the skill and craftsmanship of the portrayal.
Fast forward to this week, and especially in response to events in Charlottesville, where white nationalists and counter protesters clashed over the planned removal and a rally around a statue of Confederate Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park in that city. One person died in those clashes and the pain and anger around America’s continued struggles with race and equality rippled across the country.
On Monday, a Confederate statue in Durham, N.C. — dedicated in front of the city’s old county courthouse 93 years ago — was torn down by protesters.
Venture capitalist Benedict Evans is among those making some noise online, calling for the removal of Seattle’s Lenin, saying it’s a good one to add to the list if you want to pull down statues of “profoundly evil people.”
Evans, who describes himself as “curious” and “easily bored” in his Twitter profile, works at Andreessen Horowitz, a firm that invests in some of the biggest technology companies on the planet. (Its portfolio includes Airbnb, Box, Fanatics, GitHub, Magic Leap, Lyft, Slack, and Seattle area companies such as Apptio, Distelli, Usermind and OfferUp).
Evans, who also blogs, runs a newsletter and a podcast, began tweeting at his 224,000 followers about the Fremont statue on Tuesday.
If one wanted to pull down statues of profoundly evil people, responsible for uncountable human suffering, this one might be on the list https://t.co/YBlzS9Hv8i
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) August 15, 2017
Evans waded into the argument of whether the original intent and irony of the statue — in a city that would undeniably be characterized as liberal — has been lost. The ability to appreciate the 7-ton sculpture as a work of art and as a marker of a point in history is lost when it pays tribute to a “tyrant and mass murderer,” as Evans calls Lenin.
Some defend the statue in the thread featuring Evans’ comments, saying it’s a private piece on private land. The Fremont website, representing The Artist’s Republic of Fremont, says “art outlasts politics” and addresses the 20 plus years of controversy with this passage:
The presence of this sculpture has evoked a wide range of responses. If art is supposed to make us feel, not just feel good, then this sculpture is a successful work of art. The challenge is to understand that this piece means different things to different people and to learn to listen to each other and respect different opinions. From an artists standpoint, all points of view are valid and important.
Evans is clearly “different people” finding “different things” in the meaning of it all, and after what happened in Charlottesville, his tweets are probably reaching a wider audience than they otherwise might have. But, as that passage also points out, listening to each other is key.
There are no statues of Hitler. There should be none of Lenin. I see no justification for statues deliberately praising a fight for slavery
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) August 15, 2017
The statue and what it means standing in Seattle has also attracted attention on Reddit, where the subreddit the_donald has hundreds of comments on the subject including a top one that says liberals are hypocrites. President Trump, for his part, added more fuel to the fire on Tuesday afternoon with a combative press conference in which he asked how far the movement to pull down statues will go and whether George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are safe.
In June, The Seattle Times wrote an obituary for Emil Venkov, the Bulgarian sculptor who created the statue. The story noted that the statue, still owned by the Carpenter family, is for sale for $250,000 or best offer.
Perhaps it could be Evans’ next investment, to do with it as he pleases.