PennDesign News

Posted July 16, 2018
  • Hank Willis Thomas’ ‘All Power to All People,’ Thomas Paine Plaza, Philadelphia

    Presented as part of Monument Lab 2017. Photo Steve Weinik, courtesy Mural Arts.

PennDesign Team Awarded Grant to Develop Innovative Digital Tool for Public Art and Monuments

The Civic Portal project – involving PennDesign, Monument Lab, and Penn’s Sachs Program for Arts Innovation – has been awarded a grant to develop an innovative digital tool that allows people to envision future public monuments.

The $50,000 grant was one of 12 awarded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for projects to uncover new, and potentially replicable, strategies for cultural organizations to succeed in the digital era, harnessing the power of technology to engage people with the arts.

Leading the Civic Portal project are PennDesign’s Ken Lum, professor and chair of the Fine Arts Department, and Paul Farber (C’01), a fine arts and urban studies lecturer. Together they are co-curators of Monument Lab, a public arts and history initiative based in Philadelphia that began in 2012 and mounted an award-winning citywide exhibition in 2017. Farber is artistic director and Lum the chief curatorial advisor of Monument Lab.

The grant will be used by Civic Portal to prototype an application-based engagement tool to explore topics, locations, and even create the designs for potential public art and monuments in Philadelphia and other cities.

“The application tool is an 'imagining' tool for enhancing public experience and input in terms of public art possibilities,” Lum said. “The tool begins from the idea that citizens could contribute their ideas for public art while also expanding their understanding of the language of art, memorials and monuments in public space.”

Building on previous site-specific research, the possible platforms could include augmented/virtual reality and other data visualization techniques that could be used to interpret existing monuments and propose new commemorative sites. Monument Lab plans to build on previously research with the Penn Libraries digital scholarship team and the Price Lab for Digital Humanities.

“Monument Lab works to bridge art, public history, and technology,” says Farber. “We are thrilled to be in the first cohort of the Knight Prototype Fund recipients, and eager to continue collaborating with artists, students, cultural institutions, municipal agencies, civic stakeholders, and engaged residents, in Philadelphia and beyond.”

All the winning Knight projects have nine months to create or refine a prototype of their idea. Project leaders will convene throughout the process to learn innovation techniques and test ideas. The teams will meet next April for a demo day to share their discoveries and prototypes.

“There is no textbook detailing how the cultural sector should adapt to keep pace with, and benefit from, rapidly evolving technology innovations,” said Chris Barr, director of arts and technology at Knight Foundation. “These experiments will help fill this knowledge gap and provide lessons learned for connecting people to the arts through technology.”