Monuments must change.
At Monument Lab we envision a society where monuments are dynamic and defined by their meaning, not by their hardened immovable and untouchable status.
To illuminate how symbols are connected to systems of power and public memory, we engage critically with our inherited monument landscape and work joyfully with artists, organizations, and movements to imagine the next generation of monuments.
By disrupting the status quo of how monuments are made, preserved, and interpreted, we hope to contribute to a future society defined by joy, regeneration, and repair.
As an organization we aspire to make all of our decisions, including how our resources are obtained and allocated, based on these values:
Monument Lab is a nonprofit public art and history studio based in Philadelphia. Monument Lab works with artists, students, educators, activists, municipal agencies, and cultural institutions on participatory approaches to public engagement and collective memory. Founded by Paul Farber and Ken Lum in 2012, Monument Lab cultivates and facilitates critical conversations around the past, present, and future of monuments.
Monument Lab defines monument as “a statement of power and presence in public.”
As a studio and curatorial team, we collaborate to make generational change in the ways art and history live in public. Our approaches include producing citywide art exhibitions, site-specific commissions, and participatory research initiatives. We aim to inform the processes of public art, as well as the permanent collections of cities, museums, libraries, and open data repositories. Through exhibitions, research programs, editorial platforms, and fellowships, we have connected with hundreds of thousands of people in person and millions online. Monument Lab critically engages our inherited symbols in order to unearth the next generation of monuments that elevate stories of artists, educators, and grassroots coalitions.
Monument Lab’s team consists of artists, curators, researchers, educators, designers, writers, project managers, and students. This includes full-time and half-time employees, senior advisors, and board members. We also have over a dozen part time employees, long-term contractors, short-term contractors, research associates, interns, and innumerable collaborators. Many of us are recovering from strange and toxic experiences in non-profit and academic contexts. We are learning how to reshape a working culture together that will sustain us and future team members.
While we try to move efficiently towards our organizational goals, our vision, we know our individual shortcomings will cause detours along the way.
Our physical headquarters is located in Philadelphia, where many of us live, but our work knows no geographic boundaries. We currently have staff and core collaborators based in at least five time zones.
Founded in 2012, Monument Lab emerged from a series of classroom conversations in courses taught by Paul Farber and Ken Lum. In 2015, Monument Lab grew into a larger curatorial collective and installed a pair of outdoor classrooms in the courtyard of Philadelphia’s City Hall – one, a sculpture envisioned by the late artist Terry Adkins and the other, an adjacent learning lab operated by students and educators who gathered hundreds of public monument proposals. In 2017, Monument Lab partnered with Mural Arts Philadelphia on a citywide exhibition featuring temporary prototype monuments by 20 artists across 10 sites in Philadelphia’s iconic public squares and neighborhood parks, presented together with research labs, which engaged 250,000 Philadelphians and visitors in person and collected 4,500 creative monument proposals from passersby. The proposals informed a dataset of public speculation posted on GitHub. They were also shared in a Report to the City (2018) and the book Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia (Temple University Press, 2019).
In 2018, Monument Lab evolved into a studio composed of our team of artists, curators, researchers, educators, and students. We have since launched a fellows program; completed research residencies with the High Line Network and Pulitzer Foundation; and piloted an online commons for public scholarship on monuments, memory, and belonging through our bulletin and podcast. Our studio is based in Philadelphia, and we currently collaborate with partners in over a dozen cities, including Chicago, New York, Newark, Richmond, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington D.C., among others.
In 2020, Monument Lab was awarded a transformative grant of $4 million by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to support the production of a definitive audit of the nation’s monuments; the opening of ten Monument Lab field research offices through $1 million of subgrants; and capacity to hire its first full-time staff. Our grant was the first project funded by Mellon Foundation’s $250 million Monuments Project.
Learn how you can collaborate on and support Monument Lab projects.
Contribute to the Bulletin
The Monument Lab Bulletin, our online journal, is a collaborative platform for critically reading and reimagining monuments. We invite contributors who are deeply committed to changing the way we study, build, and interpret monuments. We welcome contributions from artists, students, scholars, activists, municipal agencies, and cultural institutions. To learn more, read our guide on how to contribute.
Inquire about Booking a Public Art and Engagement Workshop, Facilitation, or Research Project
We regularly organize sessions and initiatives for arts institutions, municipal agencies, and academic institutions. For more information on booking Monument Lab public art and engagement workshops, facilitations, and special research projects, please reach out through our Contact Form.
Apply for an Internship
The Monument Lab internship is a 10 week program in summer and 12 week program in fall and spring providing undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to learn about and support local, national, and international public art non-profit work. Check out our opportunities page for more details.
Monument Lab is supported by the Mellon Foundation, Forman Arts Initiative, Hearthland Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Wagner Foundation, and William Penn Foundation. Some of our previous projects have received grants from the Ford Foundation, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Independence Public Media Foundation, National Endowment of the Arts, Sachs Program for Arts Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania, Surdna Foundation, and Tuttleman Family Foundation.
Some of Monument Lab’s past and current partners include the Barnes Foundation, Cleveland Museum of Art, For Freedoms, Goethe-Institut, High Line, Institute of Contemporary Art, Lincoln Presidential Foundation, Mural Arts Philadelphia, National Park Service, New Arts Justice at Express Newark, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Slought, Trust for the National Mall, and the Village of Arts & Humanities.
Monument Lab also co-founded the Center for Public Art & Space at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design as a platform for artistic research and civic engagement.