For the Record: Monument Lab Town Hall in Philadelphia

On June 28, 2019, the inaugural cohort of Monument Lab Fellows headlined Monument Lab: Town Hall, our first annual meeting featuring panels and workshops with public art and history collaborators from around the country. The daylong gathering ended with an open forum focused on the momentum, milestones, challenges, and next steps for the critical monument movement today.

The cohort of 2019 Fellows included Arielle Brown (Philadelphia), Cheyenne Concepcion (San Francisco), Free Egunfemi (Richmond), Joel Garcia (Los Angeles), Maya Little and Gina Balamucki of Take Action Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill), Kayinsola Anifowoshe, Zhahna Bryant (Charlottesville), and Anaya Patrice Frazier, Danielle Nolen, and Aliyah Young of A Long Walk Home’s Girl/Friends (Chicago).

Motivated by recent debates and upheavals around monuments in public spaces across the country, and inspired by the groundbreaking work of monumental practitioners pushing change in process and possibilities for public art, the Town Hall centered around a guiding question: Who Decides the Fate of Public Space

The day began with a keynote from Sue Mobley of Colloqate Design (New Orleans), who shared insights from her years as an organizer and lessons from her renowned project Paper Monuments. (Mobley and her co-director Bryan Lee Jr. also served as a juror on the Fellows Jury.)

In two panels centered around themes of “Process” and “Power,” our national fellows shared insights into their campaigns for monument takedowns, public protest and mourning rituals, and creative direct actions. The Youth Fellows Arts & Activism Exchange was inspired, critical, and left the room of largely adults feeling mentored by this generation’s bold youth leaders. All together, their work sparked new possibilities for monuments in their hometown cities and beyond, and explored methods and modes of inquiry for those seeking to tackle, topple, and reframe history in public space. 

During the closing Town Hall forum, the Fellows and members of the audience channeled the day’s energy toward reflection on engaging and creating artworks informed by antiracist, feminist, queer, decolonial, and other social justice knowledge systems.

Among the reflections shared and written out by notetakers:

Milestones:

  • Existence of Monument Lab

  • Supporting non-binary artists

  • Joining this cohort as an Artist

  • The power of this network of people

  • Taking DOWN Silent Sam

  • Starting a sustainable BSU

  • Amplifying the work of others

  • Creating the bench

  • Realizing that I have the power to shape public space

  • BEING HERE

  • Shifting to SUSTAINING change?

  • Beginning to recover lost/erased histories of queer and LGBTQI+ POC

What’s Next?

  • Driving up the valuation of our work

  • How can we support work across urban/rural spaces?

  • What is our investment in “the American Narrative?”

  • What can YOU do to take down white supremacy in our public landscapes?

  • “We should start believing people”

  • Tell the stories of those you want to celebrate

  • How can I get others recognize my work as important?

  • How can I get others to recognize Black Girls as important?

  • How can we take this work outside the urban space?

  • Allies w/ cultural humility

  • I need constant reassurance that I’m doing what I need to

    - affirm those doing the work

  • How do I retain a network?

  • How can we shift our habits to support young people?

  • How do we bring restorative practice to public space?

  • Balance + Equity, Equality 

  • What actually challenges the system?

Monument Lab Town Hall was presented with support from the Surdna Foundation and in collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Heim Center for Cultural and Civic Engagement at Parkway Central Library. Our other partners included Slought, The Free Library of Philadelphia, the Fabric Workshop and Museum, and For Freedoms.

Stay tuned for updates in October 2020 for the next round of fellowship opportunities.