The New York City-based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has announced a five-year, $250 million commitment in support of efforts to reimagine and rebuild commemorative spaces that celebrate and affirm the historical contributions of the diverse communities that make up the United States.
With the aim of transforming the way U.S. histories are told in public spaces, the Monuments Project will focus on three areas: funding new monuments, memorials, and storytelling spaces; contextualizing existing monuments and memorials through installations, research, and education; and relocating existing monuments and memorials. The foundation's largest-ever initiative builds on two years of monument-related grantmaking and is aligned with a new strategic framework and mission announced by the foundation earlier this year.
The first major grant awarded through the initiative will provide $4 million over three years to the Monument Lab in Philadelphia, an independent public art and history studio that works with cities and local artists, activists, and community leaders to re-envision American public spaces through stories of social justice and equity. Among the efforts the grant will support is a definitive audit of the existing national monument landscape across the country.
"Monuments, memorials, and other commemorative spaces convey both individual narratives and national values," said Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander. "They shape the histories of who we are and influence ongoing discussion about which people in our society are considered worth celebrating and remembering. By providing key support to visionary artists and cultural organizations that seek to reimagine how fundamental stories and experiences may be publicly commemorated in new monuments and memorials, this unprecedented Mellon commitment will help inform our collective understanding of our country's profoundly diverse and weighty history and ensure that those who haven't been taught this history can learn it in the public square. This effort will further ensure that the many communities that have shaped the United States have greater opportunity to see themselves in the fabric of our remarkable American story."
"Monuments and memorials echo with legacy, loyalty, and love in ways that are heard across multiple lifetimes," said writer, director, producer, and independent film distributor Ava DuVernay. "But whose legacy? Loyalty to whom? Love of what? For too long, the answers to these questions have been obscured by privilege, power, and politics. But no more. The Monuments Project is a buoyant, brave, and brilliant step in liberating the power of story to reveal who more of us are, what more people value, and what all kinds of people from different walks of life want to remember. New legacy. New loyalty. New love."
(Artist: David McShane; photo credit: Mural Arts/Steve Weinik)