Roanoke has removed a series of portraits of past mayors from its Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building, making way for works from local artists.

“We felt the entryway to the seat of our local government should better celebrate the diversity present in our community and highlight the contributions made by a wider representation of residents,” City Manager Bob Cowell explained in an August update.

According to The Roanoke TimesCowell told the city council in a letter that “the current image (a corridor lined nearly exclusively with white males) does not align with our efforts at being welcoming or supporting diversity and inclusion.”

“Nobody knows who they are, they don’t relate anymore. We just need something more current,” Vice-Mayor Trish White-Boyd said, according to The Times.

The portraits were set to be moved to the City Archives in the Main Library. Portraits of the first Mayor of the Town of Big Lick and the first Mayor of Roanoke was planned to be moved into the Council Chamber.

“In place of the portraits of the Mayors will hang art created by local artists—some from the City’s permanent collection, and others chosen from a special call,” Cowell wrote in his update.

That art is part of a rotating exhibit called “Welcome to Roanoke: Images of a Compassionate, Diverse, and Welcoming Community,” and was scheduled for placement on September 9, launching the city’s “Welcoming Week.”

“There are a lot of different perspectives on that [Welcome to Roanoke] theme. Some are kind of celebrating moments of connection; others are challenging us as a community to be even more compassionate,” Arts and Culture Coordinator Douglas Jackson said in a Roanoke Times video.

“This is the third year we’ve celebrated Welcoming Week in our community,” Jackson said; adding, “It’s really about welcoming people who are new to our community whether they’re refugees and people who’ve just moved to the community, might be people who don’t speak English, and the question is, how are we receiving folks? How are we showing that we’re hospitable? How are we helping to make it easier for folks to be part of the community?”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Bob Cowell” by Bob Cowell. Background Photo “Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building” by City of Roanoke, Virginia.