Our Commemorative Landscape
Monuments and memorials—the statues, plaques, markers, and place names that commemorate people and events—are how a country tells and teaches its story. What story does the commemorative landscape of the United States tell? Who are we instructed to honor and uplift, and who do we not see in these potent symbols? Does the civic landscape show an accurate picture of our nation, or propagate a woefully incomplete story?
Today, our public realm disproportionately celebrates a limited few and overlooks the multitudes who have made and shaped our society, limiting our understanding of our collective history. This failure to represent our multiplicity impacts how we perceive, distribute, and demonstrate power in the US.
The Monuments Project is an unprecedented $250 million commitment by the Mellon Foundation to transform the nation’s commemorative landscape by supporting public projects that more completely and accurately represent the multiplicity and complexity of American stories. Launched in 2020, the Monuments Project builds on our efforts to express, elevate, and preserve the stories of those who have often been denied historical recognition, and explores how we might foster a more complete telling of who we are as a nation.
Grants made under the Monuments Project will fund publicly oriented initiatives that will be accessible to everyone and promote stories that are not already represented in commemorative spaces. While funds may support new monuments, memorials, and historic storytelling places, not every project will be a statue or permanent marker but may be realized as ephemeral or temporary installations or other nontraditional expressions of commemoration that will expand our understanding of what a monument can be. Mellon will also support efforts to contextualize or recontextualize existing commemorative sites and to uplift knowledge-bearers who can tell stories that have not yet been told.
The Monuments Project will facilitate broad expression of the complexity of American stories and help educate us about our shared collective past to shape a more just future. Over time, and with participation across a multiplicity of communities, our commemorative landscape will more accurately tell our collective histories—and help build shared understanding.
Top photo: Amy Sherald, Untitled (2019). City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program/Steve Weinik.