Jun 18, 2018

How to Make a Monument

by: Laura Kochman

This past weekend, Monument Lab was back in the news at the annual Americans for the Arts (AFTA) convention—the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America, AFTA’s Public Art Network Year in Review selects up to 50 outstanding public art projects every year. Out of hundreds of applicants and a final list of 49 honorees, not one but four projects from last fall’s Monument Lab were chosen: 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.


  • The Battle is Joined, by Karyn Olivier (at right). Photo by Mike Reali.

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

  • If They Should Ask by Sharon Hayes. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • All Power to All People, by Hank Willis Thomas, as part of Monument Lab. Photo by Steve Weinik.

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

Last updated: Jun 18, 2018

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