The National Park Service is denying a permit to a group wanting to place a 45-foot statue of a naked woman on the Mall near the Washington Monument.
Group members had said they were optimistic about receiving the necessary permits for the unusual, 16,000-pound display and raised upward of $100,000 to transport the statue from San Francisco and assemble it on the Mall, where it would stand for four months.
A National Park Service spokesman earlier this month said it was "plausible" that the agency would issue permits for such a large and long-standing display. But the activists trying to bring the statue to the Mall said they received a letter from the federal agency Wednesday dashing their plans.
Robert Haferd, an organizer who handled permits for the group, said it had reason to be hopeful the Park Service would allow the statue, called "R-Evolution," to be erected after applying for its permit in December 2016. It submitted more detailed plans in June, and Haferd said activists received no indication of anything disqualifying in the permit application.
Mike Litterst, a spokesman with the agency, said earlier this month that the height limit for a temporary structure on the Mall is 45 feet. With a base, the display of the woman would measure about 47 feet. Litterst said the agency issued the group an exception to have a structure taller than 45 feet, meaning the agency wouldn't deny permits because it exceeded the height limit.
But in the letter denying the permits, Rick Obernesser, acting regional director of the Park Service, wrote that the height exception should never have been approved and the agency was revoking the variance. He also wrote that the permit was denied because the agency was concerned the statue would damage the Mall's turf.
"The previous height variance was issued to you in error and, to the extent necessary, it is revoked as well," the letter read.
Organizers had planned to ship the statue in two trucks beginning Friday. They said the 11th-hour decision infringes upon their First Amendment rights.
The statue was to be part of a three-day "Catharsis on the Mall" festival, which will still occur. The National Park Service issued permits for the rest of the festival and its activities, which will include more than 30 temporary structures.
"Using this abysmal excuse to trump our action bringing attention to violence against women shows an unbelievable disregard for the people involved and the First Amendment," the organizers wrote in an emailed statement to The Washington Post early Thursday.
Litterst, the Park Service spokesman, said Thursday the agency also thought the statue would detract from views of the Washington Monument.
"Additionally, the proposed nearly 48-foot height of the statue introduces a visual element that would diminish the property's significant historic features by altering the setting and historic character of the Mall landscape," Litterst wrote in an email.
The massive artwork would have been the main attraction at the annual "Catharsis on the Mall" in November — a festival in the nation's capital dubbed a "Burning Man" in Washington. Burning Man, the annual desert festival outside Reno, Nev., is known for building a hippie-like community that promotes art, self-expression, inclusiveness and civic engagement.
The festival will run Nov. 10-12, the third year for the event in Washington. Each year, the event has revolved around a different theme, with the first two years focusing on healing from the drug war and recovering from trauma. This year's theme is "nurturing the heart" and equal rights.
The statue, "R-Evolution" by Marco Cochrane, depicts singer and dancer Deja Solis with short, dark hair. Cochrane said Solis posed for the statue and chose how her sculpted self would be positioned. Cochrane designed the statue for Burning Man in 2015 and is now storing it in his studio space outside San Francisco.
"We need to show women just being in their bodies, just being humans, as an antidote of the constant sexualization of the women's body, the constant dehumanization," Cochrane said earlier this month.