Philadelphia’s Monument Lab reports to Pittsburgh

Paul M. Farber, Artistic Director of Monument Lab and lecturer in Fine Arts and Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania


Philadelphia’s Monument Lab reports to Pittsburgh

Author: Kirk Savage

William S. Dietrich II Professor of History of Art and Architecture

“As a nation, we are in the midst of a long reckoning over our inherited monuments.” 

So begins a report to the City of Philadelphia by Monument Lab, a team of artists, urbanists, public historians, and data experts working to “remediate” the memorial landscape. Since 2015 Monument Lab has captured national attention with research projects and artistic interventions that leverage the expertise and energy of diverse constituencies in order to address inequities in our existing monuments and imagine new solutions for the future. 

On November 28 & 29, 2018, the University of Pittsburgh was very fortunate to be able to host Paul Farber, artistic director Monument Lab, for a series of fascinating discussions and workshops over two full days. In a lecture at Pitt’s Humanities Center, Farber walked us through the curatorial program of Monument Lab – most spectacularly in a citywide exhibition of twenty artists intervening in ten parks and sites in Philadelphia in the fall of 2017, just weeks after the tragic events in Charlottesville. Equally important, however was the research activity paired with these artistic projects. In specially outfitted shipping containers, passersby were invited to answer the question, “what is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?” These answers, written and sketched on cards, were then scanned and tagged and entered into a database that itself constitutes a unique treasury of ideas, insights, and critiques about their city.

Farber and his colleague Laurie Allen, Monument Lab’s Director of Research and Director of Digital Scholarship at Penn, who participated remotely, also led a workshop at the Office of Public Art attended by arts professionals and representatives of local foundations and nonprofits. We filled out cards on an “appropriate monument for the current city of Pittsburgh,” discussed the process surrounding the Stephen Foster monument, and speculated on how a Monument Lab approach might be adapted to the unique conditions of Pittsburgh.

Finally, Farber led an inspiring session with graduate students in art history and several other departments on changing careers for humanities PhDs. As a professional who combines curatorial work and part-time teaching with research, writing, and social activism, he shared his own personal experiences with collaboration, community engagement, fundraising, and managing work-life balance.

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