“What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?”

This is the central question driving a timely new Mural Arts project that has been two years in the making. On September 16th Monument Lab, a city-wide public art exhibition and history project, will bring temporary public art by 21 artists to 10 different locations around the city. The project will run for nine weeks, from September 16th to November 19th, and will turn squares and parks into havens for communal dialogue.

feature photo by Kara Crombie for Mural Arts


Photo by Steve Weinik for Mural Arts

Monuments stand throughout the city of Philadelphia, as they do in most major cities across the country. Mural Arts has spent over 30 years seeking to adapt the traditional conceptions of monuments, trading bronze and marble for co-created murals. Monument Lab takes these notions one step further, and has expanded the opportunity for who “creates, appreciates, and feels represented by monuments in the 21st century.”

“Sites of memory matter,” says co-curator Paul Farber. “They matter for societies to tell the noble memories, and to help societies heal and transform.”

In the spring of 2015, the research and development phase of Monument Lab launched. The project team collected 455 monument proposals from public participants who were invited to describe or sketch an idea and propose a location for a monument.  

Everyday Philadelphians were invited to share their current realities as a means of preemptive memory-making—to gaze into the crystal ball and envisage what would, in the future, be important to remember from today. What part of Philadelphia’s story is being lived? What do Philadelphians want future generations to understand about them, here and now? This simultaneous looking forward and backward yielded ideas about division across neighborhoods, addiction and violence, the need for improved education, and social justice initiatives.


The central question was posed to 21 contemporary artists who were selected by curators Paul Farber and Ken Lum. Public spaces across the city will house the temporary monuments created by the artists, who include an intellectually diverse group of creators from Philadelphia and around the world.

Tyree Guyton, renowned Detroit artist and founder of the Heidelberg Project, will present a project in Kensington that responds to the relationships between addiction,trauma, healing, and resilience. Marisa Williamson will create a mobile map in Washington Square that charts African American historic sites and clues for discovering untold stories around the neighborhood. Shira Walinsky will construct a fully-functioning newspaper kiosk—complete with publications and artwork made with artists from refugee communities in the city—in South Philly’s Marconi Plaza.

In addition to these installations, artists will tackle other issues like the “new immigrant,” access to arts and music education, and the absence of women in Philly’s monuments.


Photo by Steve Weinik for Mural Arts

According to Jane Golden of Mural Arts, “It’s more important than ever to have conversations about how we want to be represented in public space.” Monument Lab openly invites and emboldens these conversations, and encourages a range of examinations about history, memory, and collective society. It also urges everyone to get involved.

The temporary monuments will be accompanied by interactive pop-up “laboratories,” where civic dialogue, research, and engagement will occur. The learning labs will spark conversation, collect creative data concerning the artwork, and encourage visitors to write or draw their own Philly monument ideas. Mural Arts Philadelphia will also have a central hub at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where all proposals for future Philadelphia monuments will be scanned and exhibited—a “new museum of ideas and creative data…built by and for the people.”

Lastly, public programs and community events, such as panels, parties, tours, walks, and artist talks, will provide a variety of ways for visitors to participate in Monument Lab.

Don’t miss this opportunity to examine the living history of Philadelphia. Don’t miss this chance to hear and see the present realities of Philadelphians, as they tell them. Don’t miss this chance to contribute to the conversation, to question what a monument should represent, depict, and be defined as. Don’t miss Monument Lab.