About

Monument Lab is a 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.

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 resistance and hope.

Methods and Practices

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:

  • Cultivating networks of practitioners by distributing resources and building capacity with those who are producing the next generation of monuments
  • Advocating for antiracist, de-colonial, feminist, queer, working class, ecological, and other social justice perspectives to inform our understandings of monuments
  • Shifting mindsets, discourse, and pedagogy in fields related to public art, history, and space
  • Partnering with artists, students, activists, municipal agencies, and cultural institutions to advance exploratory approaches to public engagement and collective memory.

As artists, curators, and researchers, our core methods and practices include:

  • Building prototype monuments to demonstrate exploratory approaches to public art and history
  • Leading participatory research projects to intervene into official platforms for civic knowledge and municipal datastreams
  • Operating a fellows program and workshop series for public art officials in order to organize memory workers, increase capacity for municipal art officers, and shape platforms for public discourse and critical calls to action.

History

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. 

Get Involved

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
Monument Lab hosts interns during the academic year and summer sessions. Please reach out for more information through our Contact Form.

Donate Money or In-Kind Resources to Monument Lab

We appreciate support of all kinds – from ideas for collaboration, in-kind donations, and donations of funds toward our mission.

You can donate directly here to support our projects.

You can shop at our Store with proceeds going to Monument Lab and selected partners.

For other ideas and inquiries, please reach out for more information through our Contact Form.

Supporters and Partners

Monument Lab is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Independence Media 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. Some of 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, Cleveland Museum of Art, For Freedoms, the Goethe-Institut, the High Line, the Institute of Contemporary Art,  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.

Monument Lab Studio is based at CultureWorks of Greater Philadelphia.

Monument Lab also 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.