The original mold of the Dawn Staley statue, to be placed at Main and Gervais streets. (Photo courtesy of the City of Columbia/Carolina News and Reporter)

Columbia officials say a statue of Dawn Staley slated for Main Street is being “tweaked.” The changes come after widespread public criticism of the clay model that will eventually become bronze.

Fans took to social media with strong reactions to photos of the sculpture of famed University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach.

“I didn’t think it looked like her,” said Cindi Boiter, executive director of The Jasper Project art initiative, who asked people on Facebook what they thought of images released by the city Feb. 18. “And I wanted to know what other people thought. And I don’t know, I don’t think anybody thought it looked like her,  you know.” 

The mayor’s office confirmed Thursday the images were not the final look of the statue.

“Yes, we’re making tweaks to ensure it’s representative of her, and her team’s leading that,” said Payton Lang, policy advisor to Mayor Daniel Rickenmann. “But … it is art. And so it’s not going to be identical (to the person). But the goal is to make it something that everybody’s proud of, including Coach Staley.”

It is an early yet critical time for the statue’s creation.

The city, the artists and Staley’s team have worked closely together on the project to make changes, Lang said.

“Every time they say something to the artists, we are involved,” Lang said of Staley’s team and city officials. “We are really reinforcing that it is a really tight timeline with the clay because it dries.”

She said there are no new photos to share with the public. But Staley’s team is definitely involved.

“They’ve been given direct commentary (from) Dawn Staley’s team on her nose, the length of her sleeves, how tall her shoes are,” Lang said. “And so there’s a lot of little tweaks that are coming.”

The criticisms come out of love for Staley, Boiter said.

“I love Dawn Staley,” Boiter said. “I mean, she’s a personal hero of mine. … She’s a really good, local treasure, and we need to honor her appropriately.”

Others agree.

“It’s hideous,” Mel Oliver, one of the people who responded to Boiter’s Facebook post, said in a message. “But beyond that, it isn’t recognizable. The whole point is to honor and celebrate her for all her achievements and how she’s lifted up our community, right? What’s the point in making a statue that looks nothing like her? It’s insulting.”

City Councilman Peter Michael Brown said the important thing is what Staley means to the community.

“I don’t want to say ‘disheartening,’ but it’s a little disheartening that we’ve turned it into something negative when it’s extremely positive,” Brown said.

The statue of the two-time national championship and Hall of Fame coach will sit at the corner of Main and Gervais streets, across from the S.C. Statehouse.

The project was announced in February 2023 and is being funded by Statues for Equality, which aims to increase representation of women leaders. It is being sculpted by the group’s artists Gillie and Marc Schattner, who are based Sydney and London. The artists didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Boiter had hoped, if possible, that the statue could have been sculpted by a local artist.

“It is an insult to South Carolina artists when we go out of state to get people from other areas to create this art for us,” Boiter said. “There’s no better way of validating and supporting our artists than by engaging them to create the work we want, the work we make.”

Lang said that wasn’t possible, given the circumstances.

“They’re actually covering half the cost of the project, which is about $84,000,” Lang said. “And so, as a nonprofit, and as (it’s) going through them, with that sort of gift, that’s why they were chosen. This wouldn’t happen (otherwise). We would not have the funding and the resources to do this project.”

As it stands, everyone involved is OK with the updated design, Lang said.

“We want this to be as representative as possible,” she said. “… I believe (in) our last communication, we were all on the same page and happy with moving forward with the final look.”

At the end of the day, the only opinion that matters is Staley’s, Brown said.

“Who’s upset or who’s not upset, personally, I hope Dawn loves it,” Brown said. “And if Dawn loves it, I think everybody should love it. And if Dawn doesn’t like it, then we probably need to go back to the drawing board.”

The Carolina News and Reporter reached out to USC’s sports communication office Friday with a voice message seeking comment.


Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley attending the 2019 Gamecock Tipoff Event (Carolina News and Reporter file photo)

Dawn Staley high-fives Zia Cooke before a game. (Carolina News and Reporter file photo)

Dawn Staley speaks at the 2022 ceremony after the team returned from its national championship win. (Mingo Martin/Carolina News and Reporter)