Monument Lab: A Public Art and History Project operates around a central guiding question: What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? This line of inquiry is aimed at building civic dialogue and stoking historical imagination as forces for social change.

From September 16 to November 19, the Monument Lab curatorial team and Mural Arts Philadelphia have installed temporary prototype monuments by 20 artists across 10 sites in Philadelphia’s iconic public squares and neighborhood parks, plus three special projects in Kensington, West Philadelphia, and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). These site-specific, socially engaged artworks are presented together with research labs, where creative monument proposals are collected from Philadelphians and visitors. The proposals will become a dataset of public speculation presented in a final report to the city. During the exhibition, the entire collection is on view at the Morris Gallery at PAFA.

Philadelphia is a city full of monuments and memorials. Philadelphia is also a city full of monumental histories, many of which are little known, obscured, or simply unacknowledged. These underrepresented histories often exist in tension with officially acknowledged narratives. The projects that make up Monument Lab address issues of social justice and solidarity, including matters of race, gender, sexuality, class, and national belonging. The monuments proposed through this exhibition are made of stone and bronze, as well as recycled materials, images, sounds, and the byproducts of community process.

Five years ago, Monument Lab emerged from a series of classroom conversations. In 2015, it grew to include the installation of a pair of outdoor classrooms in the courtyard of City Hall through a discovery phase funded by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. In the continued spirit of collaborative learning, this current citywide exhibition with Mural Arts uses monuments to understand the ways we live together with our histories, our ideas for uplift, and our urgencies. As we experience this moment of intensity and uncertainty around public monuments—especially those that symbolize the enduring legacies of racial injustice and social inequality—we are reminded that we must find new, critical ways to reflect on the monuments we have inherited and imagine future monuments we have yet to build.

Drawing on meaningful modes of social engagement through creative response, the project is an invitation to not only answer a shared question but to explore, excavate, and reflect on multiple forms of historical knowledge. Rather than asking for only the feasible or practical, Monument Lab seeks ideas that speak to the evolving core values and visions of the city.

The Monument Lab Curatorial Team is led by Paul M. Farber and Ken Lum.