Monument Lab asks a central question: What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? The more you think about it, the tougher the question is to answer. What would it mean for a monument to be appropriate? Might we imagine new kinds of monuments for our city? Who should decide? For every monument installed in public, there remain hundreds unbuilt, resulting in a vast, unknown backlog of stories untold and momentsuncelebrated. By posing this question, we invite a fresh look at our monuments today, and what they might be in the future.

The curators of Monument Lab have invited 20 artists to create temporary prototype monuments around the city. In the research program of Monument Lab, we invite Philadelphians and visitors to reflect on these prototypes, and on the city itself, and to offer their own proposals for Philadelphia monuments. Each proposal is an idea to be considered, an inspiration to be admired, and an additional perspective on our history and our future. They are collected at learning labs in public squares and city parks, adjacent to the prototype monuments by artists invited by the curatorial team.

The labs are housed in converted shipping containers and staffed by youth researchers, artists, and community members. There, we engage visitors in conversations about monuments, both real and imagined. Their proposals are transferred to a display at the exhibition hub at PAFA and an online map available at the Monument Lab website. Later they are transcribed and analyzed, uploaded as an open dataset, deposited into a local library, and channeled into a final report to the city.

The public proposals collected at the labs represent an astonishing range and depth of perspectives about our city. Taken as a collection of individual public proposals, they remind us of the powerfully diverse city in which we live, where many histories coexist, only a few of which are called out as statues, plaques, and markers.

Our monuments have meaning. They are a city’s way of telling its story, of picking out moments in history for elevation, and for making a statement about who and what deserves to be honored and remembered. In 2017, we must recognize that the story told by our monuments is not our city’s full history. Help us elevate a richer reading of our history and move creatively toward a better future.

Please contribute a proposal, visit the proposals on display at PAFA, and help us make meaning from the data that emerges from artists, public proposals, and the spark between them.

Photo credit: Steve Weinik/Mural Arts Philadelphia