By Randall Rose
Rhode Island’s best-known memorial to the tragedy of September 11 is now in disrepair, obscured by graffiti.
Over 10,000 Rhode Islanders contributed hand-painted tiles that were placed on the Wall of Hope in downtown Providence, dedicated in September 2002. A nonprofit group, Rhode Island for Community and Justice, came up with the idea for this mosaic, encouraging Rhode Islanders to pay tribute to the lost loved ones of September 11 and to portray their personal visions and hopes for the future. People from many religions, races and cultures, ranging from young children to seniors, each contributed their own piece. I’ve always found it moving to see the pictures and thoughts on the tiles, which express the hopes, patriotism, peace, and love of thousands of people.
Now, though, parts of the mosaic are covered with graffiti or advertising, and many tiles are broken. If you go to Waterplace Park, where most of the tiles are installed in the pedestrian tunnel underneath Memorial Boulevard by the river, you can see heavy stains and graffiti on many of the tiles. One tile that originally said “LOVE” has been altered to “Brittany LOVE’s Jose.” On another tile, which was designed to show a family holding hands, graffiti writers have decided to add their own names and the names of their friends next to the family members’ original names. Some of the graffiti has been there for years and still hasn’t been cleaned. On the Providence Journal building, which also hosts thousands of tiles, an advertisement for a snowboarding store has been pasted across the mosaic, and no one has removed it. Evidently things have also been pasted on the tiles in Waterplace Park and then removed, but they weren’t cleaned off carefully, since you can still see the heavy residue left on the tiles. The few tiles that are located indoors, in the Convention Center, are in better shape but still have some marks on them.
It’s painful to see this. The Wall of Hope is a great example of the wisdom, diversity and resilience of Rhode Islanders. Currently most of it is hard to see, in a tunnel below street level where heavy rains sometimes lead to water flooding onto the tiles. But it deserves to be better kept up.
I wrote down some of the variety of messages that people put on their tiles:
At first, the tiles were supposed to be in the tunnel for only a couple of years. They were intended to have a permanent home in the Heritage Harbor Museum, and money was borrowed in taxpayers’ names to pay for building this museum. But authorities have since announced that the museum will not be built, even though the stone marker outside the tunnel still says that the tiles will be moved to the Heritage Harbor Museum in 2005. State leaders designed the museum funding without enough protection for taxpayers, so we will still be on the hook for this never-built museum, a total of $1.1 million including interest (yes, Wall Street got a cut of the deal). This is only one of many recent rip-offs like 38 Studios.
It’s good to be reminded that we, the 99% of Rhode Island, are better than this. Our spirit is the spirit that’s shown on this monument. It’s not just about hope, it’s about what we’re ready to do. The wise words on this monument came from us, and we have it in us to make a better future. We don’t need to live under these disasters and swindles, if we refuse to allow the 1% to stand in our way.