What is a monument?

A common definition states that a monument commemorates something or someone, in order
to uplift and keep it in public memory—an enduring symbol. A monument can be a statue or structure, erected to honor a famous person or event. It might be a building of historical importance. Here in Philadelphia, our city is full of monuments, many crafted in bronze and marble. There are monuments to war, to culture, and to individuals.

Murals can be monuments, too—ones that speak to people in personal and intimate ways.
In Philadelphia, our collection of murals has become a growing map of human experience, representing our heroes, our struggles, and our aspirations.

A mural has power, and when paired strategically with programming, it can change the conversation, unearthing underrepresented histories, experiences, and perspectives, and inspiring new advocates for social justice.

Tell us your own vision of a monument for Philadelphia, and we might feature it on our social media accounts! Tweet us at @muralarts and @monument_lab or use #monumentlab!

It is precisely our love for the power of art that drew Mural Arts to Monument Lab when curators Paul Farber and Ken Lum approached us three years ago. As they explained, Monument Lab invites artists and citizens to re-imagine what an appropriate monument looks like in today’s world. So, we asked ourselves: How do we look at the core values of Mural Arts, our deep-seated belief in art and social change, and apply it to the definition of a monument?

Monument Lab will challenge and invite Philadelphians to think about monuments and to speculate—together—about the future of our city. We’ll ask them: Who do we want to honor? What values do we hold dear? What are the untold stories that need to be told, and who are the storytellers?

During this challenging time in our country, when there is a great debate about our beliefs and our values, it is imperative to ask these questions. As James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Monument Lab, created in collaboration with citizens across the city, is steeped in complexity and nuance, much like Mural Arts’ larger portfolio of work. For over 30 years, we’ve engaged
with countless communities, brokering differences, building connections, stimulating creativity and action, and using art to recognize diversity within commonality. Over time, our work has become as much about truth and reconciliation as it is about art. Monument Lab asks us to contend with larger issues in the same way—to mine the range of our experiences, to share what is most important to us, and to consider how we want to be represented.

By doing this work, we—Mural Arts Philadelphia and the curators—hope to demonstrate our deep faith in the authenticity of people’s voices and our deep belief in everyone’s right to be seen and to be heard. If we could imagine a city—our city— where diversity, equity, and justice were illuminated and celebrated in our physical spaces, what would it look like? Now, we want to hear from you: What is your monument?

Banner: A Love Letter For You © 2009 Stephen Powers, Market Street between 45th and 63rd Streets. Photo by Steve Weinik

Jane Golden