Monument Lab is an independent public art and history studio based in Philadelphia. Founded by Paul Farber and Ken Lum, Monument Lab works with artists, students, activists, municipal agencies, and cultural institutions on exploratory approaches to public engagement and collective memory. Monument Lab cultivates and facilitates critical conversations around the past, present, and future of monuments.
As a studio and curatorial team, we pilot collaborative approaches to unearthing and reinterpreting histories. This includes citywide art exhibitions, site-specific commissions, participatory research initiatives, a national fellows program, a web bulletin and podcast, and a workshop series for municipal and cultural officers.
Our goal is to critically engage the public art we have inherited to reimagine public spaces through stories of social justice and equity. In doing so, we aim to inform and influence the processes of public art, as well as the permanent collections of cities, museums, libraries, and open data repositories. Since 2012, Monument Lab’s projects have engaged 300,000 people in person, and garnered recognition from Americans for the Arts and the Preservation Alliance.
Monument Lab Studio is based at CultureWorks of Greater Philadelphia.
Monument Lab 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.
Founded in 2012, Monument Lab emerged from a series of classroom conversations in courses taught by Paul Farber and Ken Lum. In 2015, it grew to include the installation of a pair of outdoor classrooms in the courtyard of Philadelphia’s City Hall through a discovery phase – 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 the continued spirit of collaborative learning, Monument Lab partnered with Mural Arts Philadelphia on a citywide exhibition in 2017 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 offer a dataset of public speculation available on OpenDataPhilly. They were shared in a Report to the City (2018) and a book edited by co-founders Paul M. Farber and Ken Lum titled, Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia (Temple University Press, 2019).
Since this exhibition, our studio has launched our national 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 journal and Podcast platforms. Our studio is based in Philadelphia, and we currently collaborate with partners in over a dozen cities, including Chicago, New York, Memphis, Newark, St. Louis, and Washington D.C., among others.
Methods and Practices
Our goal is to critically engage the public art we have inherited in order to reimagine public spaces through stories of social justice and equity. In doing so, we aim to change the ways we write history in public together. Monument Lab is a socially-engaged art project that takes the form of a civic studio, piloting collaborative approaches to unearthing and reinterpreting histories.
We define monument as “a statement of power and presence in public.”
Our approach is premised on four interconnected strategies to inform and influence the processes of public art:
- Cultivate networks of practitioners by distributing resources and building capacity with those who are producing the next generation of monuments
- Advocate for antiracist, de-colonial, feminist, queer, working class, ecological, and other social justice perspectives to inform our understandings of monuments
- Shift mindsets, discourse, and pedagogy in fields related to public art, history, and space
- Partner with artists, students, activists, municipal agencies, and cultural institutions to advance exploratory approaches to public engagement and collective memory.
Among our core programs, our work as curators of exhibitions seeks to demonstrate exploratory approaches and artistic prototype monuments; we lead engaged research projects to intervene into municipal data streams with collaborative reports and shareable findings; and we operate a fellows program and workshop series for public art officials in order to organize memory workers, train municipal art officers, and shape platforms for public discourse and critical calls to action.
For more information on booking Monument Lab public art and engagement workshops, facilitations, special research projects, and internships, please reach out to email@example.com.
Supporters and Partners
Monument Lab projects are supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania, the Surdna Foundation, and the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design. Our previous projects have received grants from the Pew Center for Art & Heritage, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts, the Tuttleman Family Foundation, and the William Penn Foundation.
Some of Monument Lab’s past and current partners include the Barnes Foundation, the Goethe-Institut, the High Line, Mural Arts Philadelphia, New Arts Justice at Express Newark, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Slought, and the Village of Arts & Humanities.