How to Make a Monument

Posted by Laura Kochman, Aug 14, 2018 0 comments

This post is part of our Public Art Network 2018 Year in Review blog salon. The Year in Review presentation is available for purchase in our bookstore.

In the fall of 2017, Mural Arts Philadelphia embarked on our biggest project ever: Monument Lab, a nine-week-long public art and history project challenging Philadelphians to join a citywide conversation about history, memory, and our collective future. Twenty dynamic contemporary artists, selected by curators Paul M. Farber and Ken Lum, created temporary monuments across the city, and four of them were selected as outstanding public art projects by Americans for the Arts’ Public Art Network Year in Review: Karyn Olivier’s The Battle Is Joined, Kaitlin Pomerantz’s On the Threshold, Sharon Hayes’ If They Should Ask, and Hank Willis Thomas’ All Power to All People.


Because all of these artworks stem from the same project, it’s easy to draw lines between them. Monument Lab asked us to consider what a monument is, and who gets a say in history. All of the artists answered this question in different visual ways, but their common qualities are clear. All four pieces make clear what is missing, what has gone untold.


“The Battle Is Joined,” by Karyn Olivier (at right). Photo by Mike Reali.

The Battle Is Joined used a mirrored surface to rethink a preexisting monument, asking visitors to interact with multiplicity, simultaneity, and a lack of resolution.

A squirrel meets a neighbor via Kaitlin Pomerantz’s “On the Threshold” in Washington Square Park. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Kaitlin Pomerantz’s On the Threshold (Salvaged Stoops, Philadelphia) was a monument to a beloved symbol of Philadelphia neighborhood culture: the stoop.

“If They Should Ask” by Sharon Hayes. Photo by Steve Weinik.

The names engraved on If They Should Ask mark a long line of Philadelphia women, from the mid-1600s to the present day, who could be or should have been recognized with monuments.

“All Power to All People,” by Hank Willis Thomas. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Developed as a neighbor to Pop artist Claes Oldenburg’s monumental everyday objects—the oversized Clothespin and Paint Torch—the sculpture All Power to All People used the common Afro pick to start a conversation around identity and representation.

Because all of these artworks stem from the same project, it’s easy to draw lines between them. Monument Lab asked us to consider what a monument is, and who gets a say in history. All of the artists answered this question in different visual ways, but their common qualities are clear. All four pieces make clear what is missing, what has gone untold.

The Battle Is Joined reflects back the actual neighborhood around it, while On the Threshold reminds us how rapid redevelopment and shifts in architecture alter neighborhood relationships. If They Should Ask lists out names of Philadelphia women who have not been honored, but could have been, and All Power to All People monumentalizes an everyday object that doesn’t get much glory in civic life.

The point of the Year in Review list is to recognize national trends in public art, and to compile an online advocacy and educational tool. If you explore the list, you’ll find a wide variety of projects, pushing the boundaries of our definitions and proving Monument Lab’s point: there is no singular public artwork, no story without a counter-story, no one way to make a monument.


Lead Monument Lab partners included the City of Philadelphia; Philadelphia Parks & Recreation; Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy; Historic Philadelphia; Independence National Historic Park; Penn Institute for Urban Research; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Price Lab for Digital Humanities; and the University of Pennsylvania.

Major support for Monument Lab projects staged in Philadelphia’s five squares was provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

An expanded artist roster and projects at five neighborhood sites was made possible by a significant grant from the William Penn Foundation.

Lead corporate sponsor was Bank of America.

Additional support was provided by Susanna Lachs & Dean Adler, William & Debbie Becker, CLAWS Foundation, Comcast NBCUniversal, Davis Charitable Foundation, Hummingbird Foundation, J2 Design, National Endowment for the Arts, Nick & Dee Adams Charitable Fund, Parkway Corporation, PECO, Relief Communications LLC, Sonesta Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square, Stacey Spector & Ira Brind, Tiffany Tavarez, Tuttleman Family Foundation, Joe & Renee Zuritsky, and 432 Kickstarter backers. Support for Monument Lab‘s final publication provided by the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation.

Media partner: WHYY

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