What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?

“The monuments that we have inherited from our past tell part of the story. But there's a lot to be learned from understanding what's missing. Who has been left out? And what are the other kinds of monuments that can bring meaning to our cities today, especially around issues of social justice, solidarity, and civic engagement? We're clearly at a crossroads when it comes to understanding our monuments; as a city, but also as a nation.”  

Paul Farber, Artistic Director, Monument Lab

 

Like others, our city is grappling with answering the question of what is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? A new public art and history project, called Monument Lab, is engaging local communities to help answer that question. And even though the upcoming launch of Monument Lab feels particularly timely given recent national debate about the removal of Confederate statues, planning for Monument Lab actually began five years ago as a conversation between co-curators Ken Lum, Paul Farber, A. Will Brown, and a community of students, artists, and scholars. From September 16 – November 19 Monument Lab will create opportunities across the city for people to engage in conversation about what makes an appropriate monument for our current city.

Funding projects and programs that elevate community voices is a key aim of the William Penn Foundation's funding priorities, and our sense of urgency for supporting this work has deepened in light of the recent events in Charlottesville. Within our funding, we focus on cultivating public and community spaces as sites of constructive civic dialogue and communal arts and culture experiences that promote a sense of belonging and connection. We believe art is a vehicle for expanding people’s views of themselves, of others around them, and of the world. It can broaden people’s perspectives and play an important role in fostering civic dialogue and community-wide conversation. It’s because of this that we were particularly pleased to support Monument Lab, and hope you will participate in this citywide conversation over the next couple of months.

We recently sat down with Monument Lab artistic director Paul Farber to discuss the role of monuments in a city and are pleased to share part of that conversation with you here.