Staying Power is an outdoor art exhibition and program series in the Fairhill-Hartranft neighborhood of Philadelphia. Staying Power asks artists, residents of the neighborhood, and visitors: What is your staying power in your neighborhood? What is your staying power in a city and world that are rapidly changing? Staying Power seeks to understand, amplify, and invest in the staying power of Fairhill-Hartranft’s neighborhood residents.
Hosted by The Village of Arts and Humanities and curated with Monument Lab, Staying Power will feature prototype monuments by artists Sadie Barnette (Oakland), Black Quantum Futurism (Philadelphia), Courtney Bowles and Mark Strandquist (Philadelphia), Ebony G. Patterson (Chicago/Kingston), and Deborah Willis (New York City) that each respond to the curatorial prompts of the project. The resulting exhibition includes monumental outdoor sculpture, photographic installations, storefront activations, and research and performance engagements, presented alongside The Village’s existing public collection of legacy artworks on the Germantown Avenue corridor of North Central Philadelphia.
Leading up to and through the exhibition, Monument Lab was invited to be in residence at The Village to collaborate with a cohort of paid Fairhill-Hartranft Neighborhood Curatorial Fellows, and work together through various methods of public artistic and research engagement. The project acknowledges and celebrates community residents as curators, thought leaders, and makers. Throughout Staying Power, together with this group, Monument Lab is collecting public responses to our central questions. This process of listening and learning will inform a series of publications on the ideas, structural forces, and relationships that nourish or undercut staying power.
Across our work, Monument Lab defines monuments as “statements of power and presence in public.” This definition encompasses conventional statues made of bronze and marble, as well as the other ways people imprint their stories in public – whether through visual art, music, dance, projection, and protest. We shaped this definition in conversation with hundreds of thousands of participants in public spaces of Philadelphia, Newark, St. Louis, among other cities. We consistently find that if you have the time, money, and sanctioned power, you build a monument to what is important to you, in a location that supports your presence. If you don't have the time, money, or sanctioned power, you gather around existing monuments, or you build your own, as a way to acknowledge your own presence and power in public.
As co-organizers of this exhibition, we have discussed “staying power” in related but distinct terms. Staying power can also be understood in personal, local, and systemic ways. One’s staying power is often overdetermined by larger structures of investment and disinvestment; racial/gendered access and inequity; resource allocations that are split between social programs of uplift and hyper-policing; and other unjust inheritances and conditions. But staying power can be enabled through beauty and resistance. It can radiate through modes of self expression, storytelling, care, and memory making. Staying power can be aided by one’s ability to reinvent the ways we receive, pass down, and access cultural, physical, and relational assets between generations.
Working now with The Village, the artists, and the Neighborhood Curatorial Fellows, we are honored and inspired to explore the pressing issues at the heart of this project. Together, we imagined Staying Power as an exhibition designed to explore the legacies and creative practices that connect or disconnect people from place. We know from experience that collective voice makes room for itself. We dream that in gathering a multitude of responses to the questions driving this project, neighborhood residents, contributors, and visitors to Staying Power will determine what is next for the neighborhood, our city, and beyond.
“They are Their Own Monuments,” The New York Times. May 2021.
‘The impossible is what we do’: A new art project honors neighborhood ‘Staying Power,’" The Philadelphia Inquirer. May 2021.