Monument Lab, founded by Penn profs., wins $4 million grant for art and justice projects

Emilee Geist

“Sample Philly” by Kara Crombie, a piece featured in the 2017 exhibition Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia. (Photo by Steve Weinik)

Monument Lab, an art history studio founded by Penn professors, received a $4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop new art and justice initiatives.

The grant, titled “Beyond the Pedestal: Tracing and Transforming America’s Monuments,” will be used to support the production of an audit of monuments throughout the nation, the opening of ten Monument Lab field research offices, and the hiring of the Monument Lab’s first full-time staff. 

Co-founded by Ken Lum, chair of Fine Arts at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design and the Marilyn Jordan Taylor Presidential Professor, and Paul Farber, a lecturer in Fine Arts and a senior research scholar at Penn’s Center for Public Art and Space, Monument Lab is a collaborative of artists, scholars, and activists in public engagement. Monument Lab facilitates conversations about the past, present, and future of monuments and elevates stories of resistance and hope, according to Weitzman.

“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,” Farber said in a Weitzman School press release.

The National Monument Audit will be the first project funded by the grant, the Weitzman School reported. The audit will consider data from national, state, municipal, and other public sources to contextualize the monuments within specific communities and create a dataset of protest activities related to these monuments.

Following the audit, Monument Lab will grant $1 million to ten new field offices across the country in 2021 to reimagine monuments, the Weitzman School reported.

Monument Lab was founded in 2012, inspired by an Urban Studies course that Farber taught during the 2012-2013 academic year, the Weitzman School reported. Monument Lab spearheaded the largest outdoor art project in Philadelphia in 2017, featuring temporary monuments designed by 22 artists from around the world.

“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,” Lum said in a Weitzman School press release. “That is the project of Monument Lab.”

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