In a 2017 Monument Lab collaboration with Mural Arts Philadelphia, Weitzman students staffed pop-up studios across the city.
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Philadelphia–Monument Lab, the public art and history studio co-founded by Ken Lum, the Marilyn Jordan Taylor Presidential Professor and chair of fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design, and Paul Farber, a lecturer in fine arts and senior research scholar at Penn’s Center for Public Art and Space, has received a transformative $4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The grant, entitled “Beyond the Pedestal: Tracing and Transforming America’s Monuments,” will support the production of a definitive audit of the nation’s monuments; the opening of ten Monument Lab field research offices through $1 million of subgrants in 2021; and capacity for Monument Lab to hire its first full-time staff and develop significant art and justice initiatives.
The grant is the first from a new $250 million “Monuments Project” from the Mellon Foundation created “to transform the way our country’s histories are told in public spaces.”
“Over the last decade, we have worked around the country working with artists, educators, and public institutions who have been transforming the monument landscape,” says Paul Farber, director of Monument Lab. “Thanks to this grant and meaningful relationship with the Mellon Foundation, we can work toward generational change in the ways art and history live in public.”
Ken Lum, a prolific artist who has completed numerous public commissions, says, “Monuments are symbolic objects linked to the construction of cultural memory and to the self-image of a place or a nation that need to be examined critically to assure that history in all its multiplicity is articulated. That is the project of Monument Lab.”
The first project supported by the grant is the National Monument Audit, which will assess the current monument landscape across the United States. The National Monument Audit draws on existing data on monuments from national, state, municipal, and publicly created sources. The Audit will contextualize the monuments within specific geographies and communities and create a concurrent dataset of reported protest activities tied to monuments.
The National Monument Audit will lead into a larger 2021 initiative that will subgrant a total of $1 million to ten new Monument Lab field offices across the country to critically engage and re-imagine monuments in cities, regions and communities across the country.
Founded in 2012, Monument Lab works with artists, students, activists, municipal agencies, and cultural institutions on participatory approaches to public engagement and collective memory. The project traces its beginnings to a Penn course in Urban Studies first taught by Farber during the 2012-2013 Academic Year. The course has introduced hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students in fine arts and other disciplines—both at Penn and partner institutions in the region—to the ethics, politics, and mechanics of public art. In 2017, students contributed research and fieldwork to Monument Lab’s city-wide exhibition, produced with Mural Arts Philadelphia, featuring temporary prototype monuments by 20 artists across 10 sites in Philadelphia and network of labs where visitors were asked to envision future monuments.
Farber himself earned a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies from Penn before going on to receive a PhD in American Culture from the University of Michigan.
Following the success of Monument Lab, Farber and Lum co-founded the Center for Public Art and Space at Penn through the Department of Fine Arts in 2019. CPAS is a platform for artistic research and civic engagement. The Center supports Penn faculty, staff, and students in incubating public art projects and securing grant-based funding, advances the work of exceptional MFA students as artists in residence, and partners on critical initiatives that bridge the campus and the public realm in Philadelphia and beyond.
Today, Monument Lab cultivates and facilitates critical conversations around the past, present, and future of monuments, both in the United States and abroad. Through exhibitions, research programs, and fellowships, Monument Lab critically engages our inherited symbols in order to unearth the next generation of monuments that elevate stories of resistance and hope.