Welcome to The Monumental Project: How Historic Sites and Monuments of Yesterday Affect Us Today. As the official companion podcast of the Monuments Toolkit program, we will be diving deep into the pieces of American history found across the nation, and how the stories they carry impact the modern day American citizen. The goal of this podcast and the program at large, is to address the question “how do we address monuments of oppression?” What are our options for dealing with painful pieces of our past? How can we learn, heal, and move forward? By the end of this season we’ll have a better understanding. Hosted by Miles Ezeilo.
The Tools in the Toolkit
For the last year and a half, the Monumental Project has taken a close look at all of the pieces of historical preservation, activism, public art and legislation that has created the conversation around monuments of oppression. These conversations, as you can hear in our previous episodes, are extremely multifaceted and nuanced. An array of industries, missions and opinions have created a very interesting mosaic of perspectives. This is a vital part of the monuments toolkit: finding the individual actors and institutions that play a part in this ongoing conversation that we're having, between the art of the past, the perspectives of now and the way we are moving in the future.
With all that being said, it's time that we shine a light on the Monuments Toolkit itself. What are the elements that make this project so interesting? What are the components that we focus on? And what are the next steps for developing research towards this topic? To speak to that we sat down with William Humphrey and Gilbert Correa, two members of the research and publications team for the Monuments Toolkit.
In a very fascinating conversation, we talked about the Monuments Toolkit’s inner workings, what we're aiming to accomplish on a grand scale, the case studies that have made the biggest impact on the project, and the conversations that we need to have in order to continue the best work possible. Enjoy!
The Monument in the Mountain
If you’ve tuned into the show before, then you know that most of our conversations are centered around public art, history and racial justice. The combination of these three things are the essence of what makes this topic so interesting: how does one tackle the artistic, historic and cultural meaning behind a public structure in the best way possible? For the most part, these monuments are city wide issues that permeate the public discourse of a community. Of course, there are times like in 2020 when many eyes are on specific monuments like the Columbus statue in St. Paul and Monument Avenue in Richmond. But for the most part, these are local issues that, with enough public discourse and political backing, are resolved to some degree.
However, there are unique instances where an oppressive monument has so much artistic weight, so much history and so much cultural impact that the conversation around it goes beyond these three elements. What results is a structure that is essentially too big to fail, despite the outdated meaning of the monument itself. It’s hard to find examples like this in the United States, but there is one that stands out above the rest. With a size of over 17,000 square feet engraved in one of the biggest geological formations in the country, the Confederate Memorial Carving in Stone Mountain is a fascinating story to say the least.
Not only is it the biggest confederate monument in the country, it’s also a tourist attraction to anyone visiting Georgia. A rebrand of Stone Mountain Park in the 80s made what was originally a bland history-focused walk into a family friendly amusement park that just so happens to be centered around confederate soldiers. Almost everyone that lives in Georgia has been or knows someone who has made the trek up the mountain, and the sight of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson are clear as day. Many scholars, historians, and political organizations have advocated for change. However, changing Stone mountain and its accompanying engraving is nowhere near an easy task. To speak to this, we sat down with Sheffield Hale and Claire Bailey from the Atlanta History Center.
The Atlanta History Center, or AHC, is a history museum and research center located in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1926, the museum currently consists of nine permanent, and several temporary, exhibitions. They also have a variety of programs and initiatives aimed at connecting people to history and culture in a thoughtful and comprehensive way. One of these projects is the Confederate Monument Interpretation Guide, founded in 2016 with a focus on breaking down Lost Cause ideology. Sheffield Hale is the CEO of the AHC, and Claire Haley is the CEO and VP for Democracy Initiatives at the Atlanta History Center.
As a pioneer in the conversation around monuments of oppression, we were very excited to finally talk to them. Enjoy the show!
Art and Activism in Alabama
When it comes to the conversation around Monuments of oppression, there are a few obstacles that usually come into play.
To start, there's the Daughters of the Confederacy, the neo-Confederate association for female descendants of Confederate Civil War soldiers. They work all over the country to “preserve the legacy” of Confederate soldiers by actively fighting against any Confederate monument removal. Additionally, there are the white nationalist groups that, through misinformation and a lot of anger, block peaceful protests and legislative progress all over the country as well.
But in southern states in particular, a different kind of obstacle has proven to be quite difficult to overcome. I’m talking about specific laws and codes that get in the way of social progress.
Let’s take a look at Mississippi, for instance. Mississippi was the last state in the country to have the Confederate emblem on its flag. Mississippi state politicians have also had laws protecting Confederate monuments on the books since 1972. Structures, including the "War Between the States" Monument, are prohibited from being relocated, removed, or defiled by the Mississippi Code of 1972.
South Carolina is no different. Since 2000, the South Carolina Heritage Act has been cited as a way to protect Confederate monuments. The act was an amendment to a code of laws in 1976.
And now, recent news has come up about Florida proposing a bill that would Allow civilians to sue when Confederate monuments are damaged or removed, making it, if passed, one of the most detrimental pieces of legislation to the conversation around monuments of oppression.
Although there are a myriad of obstacles that come up when dealing with racial justice in southern states, there are still organizations and movements who are working twice as hard to get the job done on a grassroots and statewide level.
This month, the Monuments Toolkit headed down to Alabama to speak to two amazing women who are fighting back against these obstacles in their own unique ways.
The Monumental Project spoke with Camille Bennett of Project Say Something and Michelle Browder from the Mothers of Gynecology Monument. Enjoy!
Protecting Legacies: Keeping LGBTQ+ Stories Alive with Victor Salvo
Welcome to another episode of The Monumental Project on behalf of the Monuments Toolkit! In honor of Pride Month, we decided to look at an incredible monument collection that does an amazing job championing the LGBTQ+ community. The monuments in question? None other than The Legacy Walk in Chicago, Illinois.
The LGBTQ+ community has made great strides in the past few decades in the field of public art representation. One notable example of public art representing the gay community is the iconic Stonewall National Monument in New York City. Erected in 2016, the monument commemorates the historic Stonewall uprising of 1969, a pivotal moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. The monument, located in the heart of Greenwich Village, serves as a symbol of resilience and marks the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. It stands as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and the importance of safe spaces for all individuals to express their authentic selves. This monument, as well as other public art installations like the AIDS Memorial Quilt, have provided the LGBTQ+ community with positive reminders that their history and identity is respected.
Today we are focusing on the Legacy Walk in Chicago Illinois, another monument collection that does an amazing job highlighting the impacts of exceptional LGBTQ+ individuals. Public art plays a significant role in shaping our cities, fostering inclusivity, and most importantly highlighting diverse narratives. This is the biggest reason why controversial monuments are an issue; their presence upholds a niche and outdated narrative. The work of the Monuments Toolkit often focuses on controversial monuments that have glorified specific pieces of history, but we also love to draw attention to what we call Monuments of Upliftment. Monuments that are, in our eyes, correctly using the power of statues and monuments to support amazing organizations, histories and cultures. The Legacy Walk is a great example of this.
The Legacy Walk is a dynamic outdoor history display in Chicago's "Lakeview" neighborhood, also known nationally and globally as "Boystown." Ten pairs of 25 feet tall ornate steel "Rainbow Pylons" indicate the nexus of Chicago's LGBTQ community along the half-mile North Halsted Street Corridor, between Belmont Avenue and Grace Street.
A series of bronze biographical memorial markers affixed to the pylons commemorate the life and work of notable LGBTQ individuals whose achievements have helped shape the world - but whose contributions, sexual orientation, or gender identity have been overlooked, minimized, or completely redacted from most historical texts.
The installation is amazing for many reasons, which is why it became a national landmark in 2019 and the only outdoor LGBTQ history museum in the world. To speak to the history and creation of this monument, The Monumental Project spoke to Victor Salvo.
Victor Salvo is the creator, co-founder and executive director of the Legacy Project, the program responsible for the Legacy Walk. A native Chicagoan, Victor Salvo has been an activist for four decades. As co-founder and executive director of the award-winning“Legacy Project,” Victor works to educate the general public about the many roles that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) people have played in the advancement of world history and culture.
We sat down with Victor to speak on Chicago's LGBTQ history, the inspiration behind this collection, and how it's already impacted the lives of so many people.
Sculpted Stories: Philadelphia's Public Art and Monument History
In Philadelphia, monuments are more than just stone and bronze. They're time capsules that take us back to pivotal moments in American history. From William Penn, the Liberty Bell, to even the Rocky Balboa statue, Philadelphia boasts a wide range of public art that rivals the most famous cities around the world. In fact, Philadelphia holds the world record for the most public art in a single city.
As we take a closer look at Philadelphia's monuments, we'll shine a light on the stories and history often left in the shadows. It’s only right that the Monuments Toolkit took a deep dive into the monuments that the city upholds, the monuments that have caused tension in recent years, and the right path for a city filled with so much history. Together, we'll grapple with the complexities of memory, seeking to understand how these monuments can bridge divides and pave the way for a more inclusive future.
For this conversation, we spoke with Paul Steinke from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia and Harry Philbrick from The Philadelphia Contemporary.
Earlier in his career, Paul Steinke served for four years as the founding Executive Director of University City District, a neighborhood improvement organization that has been central to the revitalization of West Philadelphia. Before that, Paul was a founding staff member of the Center City District, Philadelphia’s downtown improvement agency, where he spent seven years as its Finance Director.
Paul Steinke now serves as executive director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, a membership-based organization whose mission is to promote the appreciation, adaptive re-use and development of the Philadelphia region’s historic buildings, communities and landscapes.
Harry Philbrick has over 25 years of experience in museum management, exhibition development, and educational programming. Philbrick is keenly aware of the challenges of making contemporary art exhibitions accessible to a variety of
Audiences. From 1996 - 2010 he was Director of The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, building the Museum’s celebrated new building, developing innovative education programs and leading the museum's exhibition program, working with artists such as Ann Hamilton, Robert Gober, Fred Wilson, and KAWS.
Philbrick founded Philadelphia Contemporary in 2016. The Contemporary‘s mission is to connect the people and places of Philadelphia through art and partnership.
The Monumental Project spoke on the history of the city, the monuments that shape the artistic culture, and how historic structures affect all of us. Enjoy!
"Reimagining Monuments and Urban Spaces: A Vision for More Inclusive City Planning"
Urban planning has been a hot topic in recent years, with the world's cities experiencing rapid growth and transformation. As populations surge and infrastructure struggles to keep up, urban planners face a myriad of challenges. One such challenge is how to reconcile the need for progress with the preservation of our cultural heritage. This issue is especially pronounced when it comes to monuments that have come under scrutiny for their controversial histories.
Many of these structures, from the Confederate memorials in the south to statues of colonial figures out west and on the east coast , have become flashpoints for social instability. For many, they are a bitter reminder of past atrocities as well as a celebration of authoritarian systems. Others see them as emblems of cultural heritage and testaments to their forefathers' achievements. How do we reconcile these opposed points of view, and what role do urban planners play in this debate?
As cities continue to evolve, their planning strategies must do the same. Urban planners have a critical role to play in shaping our cities and ensuring that they are inclusive, and equitable for all. This includes addressing the issue of controversial monuments and their impact on public spaces. Whether through the removal, relocation, or recontextualization of these structures, urban planners must find a way to strike a balance between preservation and progress. To speak to that, we sat down with Matthew Clarke from the Design Trust for Public Space.
Matthew Clarke joined the Design Trust in May of 2020 as Executive Director, where he advocates for the power of public space to build vibrant, equitable communities. As an architect, planner, and writer, he has created complex architectural and urban design projects; developed public-space policies; and developed national partnerships and initiatives. Prior to leading the Design Trust, Matthew was the National Director of Creative Placemaking at The Trust for Public Land, where he authored The Field Guide for Creative Placemaking and Parks. He has also held positions at SHoP Architects and NYC’s Department of Cultural Affairs,
The Monumental Project spoke with Matthew about how to shape cities for the future, how controversial monuments affect the average citizen, and the importance of a city that reflects the people within it. Enjoy!