Hosted by the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project
September 29, 2021 4:00pm – 5:00pm
As part of the Mellon Foundation’s unprecedented new Monuments Project, Philadelphia-based nonprofit art and history studio Monument Lab undertook a comprehensive audit of our country’s commemorative landscape, scouring almost half a million records of historic properties to better understand the dynamics and trends that have shaped our nation’s monuments. Join Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Dr. Paul Farber, Director of Monument Lab for a discussion that will dive into Monument Lab’s findings, and explore what they mean for the future of our commemorative landscape.
The National Monument Audit, produced by Monument Lab in partnership with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, assesses the current monument landscape across the United States. Monument Lab’s research team spent a year scouring almost a half million records of historic properties created and maintained by federal, state, local, tribal, institutional, and publicly assembled sources. For our deepest investigations, we focused on a study set of approximately 50,000 conventional monuments representing data collected from every US state and territory. The National Monument Audit allows us to better understand the dynamics and trends that have shaped our monument landscape, to pose questions about common knowledge about monuments, and to debunk falsehoods and misperceptions within public memory. The National Monument Audit is meant to inform Mellon’s landmark Monuments Project, a $250 million investment designed to “transform the way our country’s histories are told in public spaces and ensure that future generations inherit a commemorative landscape that venerates and reflects the vast, rich complexity of the American story.”
Dr. Elizabeth Alexander
President, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Elizabeth Alexander – decorated poet, educator, memoirist, scholar, and cultural advocate – is president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder in arts and culture, and humanities in higher education. With more than two decades of experience leading innovative programs in education, philanthropy, and beyond, Dr. Alexander builds partnerships at Mellon to support the arts and humanities while strengthening educational institutions and cultural organizations across the world.
Dr. Alexander is Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and serves on Pulitzer Prize Board. Prior to joining Mellon, Dr. Alexander served as a director at the Ford Foundation. There, she co-designed the Art for Justice Fund—an initiative that uses art and advocacy to address the crisis of mass incarceration—and guided the organization in examining how the arts and visual storytelling can empower communities.
Over the course of a distinguished career in education, Dr. Alexander has taught and inspired a generation of students, having held distinguished professorships at Smith College, Columbia University, and Yale University, where she taught for 15 years and chaired the African American Studies Department. While an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, she was awarded the Quantrell Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.
An author or co-author of fourteen books, Dr. Alexander was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize: for poetry with American Sublime and for biography with her 2015 memoir, The Light of the World. Her poetry and essays include Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990–2010 (2010), Power and Possibility: Essays, Reviews, Interviews (2007), American Sublime (2005), The Black Interior: Essays (2004), Antebellum Dream Book (2001), Body of Life (1996), and The Venus Hottentot (1990). Accolades for her work include the Jackson Poetry Prize, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the George Kent Award, the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and three Pushcart Prizes for Poetry. In 2009, Dr. Alexander composed and delivered a poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” for President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Dr. Paul Farber
Director, Monument Lab
Paul M. Farber is Director of Monument Lab. He also serves as Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Public Art & Space at the University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design.
Farber’s research and curatorial projects explore transnational urban history, cultural memory, and creative approaches to civic engagement. He is the author of A Wall of Our Own: An American History of the Berlin Wall (University of North Carolina Press, 2020) which tells the untold story of a group of American artists and writers (Leonard Freed, Angela Davis, Shinkichi Tajiri, and Audre Lorde) who found refuge along the Berlin Wall and in Cold War Germany in order to confront political divisions back home in the United States. He is also the co-editor with Ken Lum of Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia (Temple University Press, 2019), a public art and history handbook designed to generate new critical ways of thinking about and building monuments. Additionally, Farber edited a new critical edition of photographer Leonard Freed’s Made in Germany (Steidl Verlag, 2013), co-edited a special issue of the journal Criticism on HBO’s series, The Wire (Wayne State University Press, 2011), and contributed essays and advised the production of numerous visual culture books including Leonard Freed’s This Is the Day: The March on Washington (Getty Publications, 2013), Nathan Benn’s Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972-1990 (powerHouse, 2013), and Jamel Shabazz’s Pieces of a Man (ArtVoices, 2016).
In addition to his work with Monument Lab, Farber served as curator for the inaugural Artist-in-Residence Program at the Office of the District Attorney of Philadelphia with Mural Arts Philadelphia (2020), the traveling exhibition The Wall in Our Heads: American Artists and the Berlin Wall (2014–2016), and Stephanie Syjuco: American Rubble (2014).
Farber earned a PhD and MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan and a BA in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.