Mellon at 50: Cultural Leaders Who Are Telling a Fuller American Story

How do we mindfully uncover and memorialize erased histories? If the American landscape is a text, whose story are we reading?

As it stands, our monuments, memorials, and architecture reflect the narratives of a privileged few whose stories dominate the historical record.  But thinkers, advocates, and makers are challenging this inequity by creating and preserving diverse cultural artifacts and lifting up marginalized histories.

Below, watch excerpts from “Expanding the American Story,” a conversation moderated by Elizabeth Alexander, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with Judith F. Baca, artist and UCLA professor emerita; Brent Leggs, executive director of the National Trust for Historical Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund; and Michael Murphy, founding principal and executive director of MASS Design Group. 

Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander raises a compelling question about “the sacred charge of lifting up marginalized histories.”  By uncovering and sharing erased histories through the arts and humanities, do we risk expending creative and intellectual energies that might otherwise be moved toward visions of the future? 

Judith F. Baca and other panelists address one of the most urgent cultural topics of our time:  How do we memorialize histories that do not reflect our cultural values—and mindfully build new sites that do? 

What are the possibilities for collaboration between cultural narrators, artists, and activists? Panelists examine these relationships through diverse lenses of personal experience.

This panel was part of a daylong symposium celebrating the Mellon Foundation’s 50th anniversary at the New-York Historical Society on November 18, 2019.