In Spring 2015, Monument Lab—a team of curators, scholars, students, and artists—organized a public art and historical research project at Philadelphia’s City Hall. The project asked Philadelphians a central guiding question: What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? Rather than asking for the feasible or practical, we sought ideas that spoke to the emergent core values of a city founded on principles of freedom, justice, and tolerance.
To address that question, Monument Lab staged an interactive research pavilion and temporary public art installation in the courtyard of City Hall. The centerpiece—a prototype monument by the late artist Terry Adkins—was a minimalist interpretation of a 19th century classroom meant to invite reflection on educational innovation and loss in this city. Each day leading civic thinkers shared dialogue with the public in free lunchtime conversations. Monument Lab also asked four other leading Philadelphia artists—Zoe Strauss, Kara Crombie, Alexander Rosenberg, and Kaitlin Pomerantz of WE THE WEEDS—to share speculative monument proposals for the other public squares of Penn’s historic city plan: Franklin, Logan, Rittenhouse and Washington.
During Monument Lab’s month-long pilot installation, hundreds of participants authored their own public monument proposals for the city, and over 35,000 people engaged with the project. Monument Lab’s technology on the ground was simple: respondents were asked to propose an appropriate monument for the city using a standardized research sheet, a clipboard, and a marker. Some participants layered their preformatted sheets with additional materials and others used our template as a springboard to breakout from the exercise. Behind the scenes, our team of educators and students collected each entry, uploaded it to a map available on our website, and entered them as useable data primed for OpenDataPhilly. Collectively, these proposals contain rich, varied, and evocative accounts of Philadelphia’s monumental history.
Monument Lab was institutionally sponsored by the Penn Institute for Urban Research.