Monuments Now / Forever

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday October 7, 2020

On Monday the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced it will commit an unprecedented $250 million to overhaul historical monuments in the US over the next five years. The “Monuments Project,” as the ambitious initiative is called, is the most substantial effort in the foundation’s history. Above: The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Unveiled in April 2020 and funded in part by the Mellon Foundation, the monument was conceived in collaboration with Michael Murphy of MASS Design Group, a Boston-based architecture firm best known for its public-interest projects in Africa and Haiti. The sculpture, Enslaved African men and women is by the Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo. Credit...Johnathon Kelso for The New York Times 

"Statues are not just bodies in bronze, and monuments are not just stone pillars," the foundation's announcement says. "They instruct. They lift up the stories of those who are seen, dominate the stories of those who are unseen, and too often propagate menacingly incomplete accounts of our country's past."

The foundation is among the largest funders of arts and humanities in the United States. The new initiative is the largest in its 51-year history, and it will allocate funds to relocate or contextualize monuments and memorials, as well as create new ones. The initiative comes at a time of racial reckoning for the U.S., spurred by the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement


Raise Up,” a sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas, is on the grounds of the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama; photo courtesy of NMPJ

The $250 million war chest will be distributed through grants to fund new statuary as well as the re-contextualization or relocation of preexisting monuments. The term “monument” will be broadly defined to mean not only statues and memorials but also spaces like museums and art installations. 

“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,” Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander said in a statement. 

“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,” Ms. Alexander continued.

The first allowance comes in the form of a three-year, $4 million grant issued to the Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based independent studio that works with communities around the country to reimagine public spaces through participatory actions. The money will help fund a comprehensive audit of public statuary across the US.

“It is really humbling when you look at all the need and realize ‘we give away the most and it still doesn’t even begin to be enough,’” Ms. Alexander told reporters earlier this year. “We need the arts to take us through dark times. We need the arts to help us imagine a different future.” 


In its call to action, Monuments Now [covered in DART] Socrates Sculpture Park will open Phase II of Call and Response, with an all-day celebration of works selected from an open call. The 200+ proposals were reviewed by Socrates Director, John Hatfield and Socrates Curator, Jess Wilcox, as well as two Curatorial Advisors—Aime Iglesias-Lukin (Americas Society) and Legacy Russell (Studio Museum in Harlem). The jury selected 10 artists for the 2020 Socrates Annual artist fellowship and the Monuments Now exhibition, which runs through March 2021. The artists are Daniel BejarFontaine CapelDionisio Cortes OrtegaPatrick CostelloBel FalleirosJenny PolakAya Rodriguez-IzumiAndrea SolstadKiyan Williams, and Sandy Williams IVInfo Above: Paul Ramirez Jonas, Eternal Flame; photo by Scott Lynch for Socrates Sculpture Park


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