Mellon Foundation Announces Half Billion Dollar Monuments Project Commitment, Doubling Total Funding to Reimagine the Nation’s Commemorative Landscape
Funding expansion provides unprecedented investment for memorializing a more accurate American story in our public spaces
NEW YORK, Nov. 28, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — The Mellon Foundation today announced it has doubled the funding commitment to a total of $500 million for its Monuments Project, which is aimed at transforming the nation’s commemorative landscape to ensure our collective histories are more completely and accurately represented. This unprecedented investment underscores Mellon’s commitment to leverage the power of the arts, culture and humanities to create more just communities.
Mellon’s expanded investment comes at a critical time in our nation’s history with book banning and criminalization of knowledge increasing in schools, universities, and libraries across the country. By committing $500 million —the largest such commitment in the Foundation’s history — Mellon aims to expand capacity for the continued creation of and community engagement around new monuments and commemorative spaces that tell of our shared past and collective futures.
“The project of transforming our commemorative landscape is the work of more than one generation,” said Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation. “Our $500 million commitment to the Monuments Project reflects both the urgency and the gravity of fostering more complete and inclusive storytelling of who we are as Americans. We stand at the beginning of this significant collective effort to make sure that our public spaces convey the truth about our history and shift who has the power to shape our present and our future.”
Launched in 2020 with a $250 million commitment, the initiative has since provided more than $170 million in critical funding to an expansive slate of 80 projects. Projects span the memorialization of lesser-known events, the preservation of archival materials and historical sites, a reexamination of the very ways in which we talk about civic spaces and geographies, and foster more representative participation in the creation of our nation’s commemorative sites and practices. The National Monument Audit—a 2021 study undertaken with Mellon support by non-profit public art and history studio Monument Lab—confirms the nation’s commemorative landscape disproportionately venerates a limited few, mostly white and male, while overlooking many who have profoundly shaped our society but are frequently denied historical recognition.
In just three years, the Monuments Project has supported projects that showcase the evolving nature of monuments within our cultural imagination, as well as the continued urgency of their respective work as a means of ensuring a more just and equitable future. Highlights of major projects and milestones since 2020 include:
- Bureau of Indian Affairs (Washington, DC) – Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is part of the US Department of the Interior, will receive Mellon funding to establish an oral history project as part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. This first-of-its-kind undertaking for the US government will encompass the collection of oral history from Indigenous survivors of the Federal Indian boarding school system, as well as establishing a permanent collection for related artifacts, collected oral histories, and other work to memorialize the era of Federal Indian boarding schools—and the Federal government’s role in establishing the system—in American history.
- Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument (Tallahatchie, MS and Chicago, IL) – Mellon has provided substantial support to a network of organizations working to interpret and commemorate Emmett Till’s life and legacy. These include the Emmett Till Interpretive Center (ETIC) in Tallahatchie, Mississippi; the National Trust for Historic Preservation African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, and the National Park Foundation; the National Park Foundation, who partnered with ETIC and other organizations to facilitate the creation of a new, multi-site National Park Service site in Tallahatchie County, MS and Chicago, IL; and the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Institute, which is leading efforts to preserve and interpret Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago, where Till’s open-casket funeral was held.
- The Great Wall of Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA) – The Social and Public Art Resource Center received Mellon funding to support the preservation, activation, and expansion of artist Judy Baca’s Great Wall of Los Angeles, one of the country’s largest monuments to interracial harmony through civic engagement and muralist training.
- Harriet Tubman and Underground Railroad Monument (Newark, NJ) – Newark Arts Council received Mellon funding to commission and construct a new monument to honor the legacy of Harriet Tubman, the city’s role in the Underground Railroad, and Newark’s legacy of Black activism.
- Irei Names (Los Angeles, CA) – The University of Southern California received Mellon funding to support the creation of the Irei Names Monument. The Monument comprises a sacred book of names—a comprehensive, accurate list of the names of all those of Japanese ancestry whom the US government incarcerated during World War II—that will be housed at institutions across the country, an interactive website, and innovative light installation memorials that will be displayed at former incarceration sites around the country.
- Kinfolk Foundation (New York, NY) – Kinfolk received Mellon funding to support the development of the Kinfolk Augmented Reality Monuments app and archive, including the commissioning of artists, from across the US, to create 100 AR monuments.
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), “Monumental Perspectives” (Los Angeles, CA) – LACMA received Mellon funding to support the curation, community engagement, and related public programming for LACMA’s collaboration with Snap Inc. to develop augmented-reality monuments and murals led by local artists and technologists. The program is an effort to celebrate the region’s diversity and use AR technology to reflect the inclusive perspectives from local communities that are often untold. The virtual monuments were available through the Snapchat app, and the grant also supports the expansion of Monumental Perspectives to include additional artists in the coming years.
- A Monument to Listening (Memphis, TN) – The Memphis River Parks Partnership received Mellon funding to support the redesign of Tom Lee Park, including the installation of A Monument to Listening, an interactive installation that serves as a reflection on the heroism of Tom Lee a Black river worker who saved 32 people from the river after a steamboat capsized, designed by artist Theaster Gates.
- Public Memory in Richmond (Richmond, VA) – Several Richmond-based organizations and projects received Mellon funding to support their work examining, preserving and reimagining the city’s rich historical narratives. Grantees include:
- The City of Richmond, which is leading planning, development, and initial operations of a cultural space located at the historic Shockoe Bottom train shed that memorializes and commemorates the history of slavery in Richmond.
- The JXN Project, a non-profit preservation organization pursuing redemptive storytelling around the pivotal role of Richmond – particularly Jackson Ward, the nation’s first historically registered Black urban neighborhood – in the evolution of the national Black American experience.
- The Valentine Museum, which is developing research and educational experiences that tell a more honest history of both the Richmond region and the museum itself. This includes reimagining the studio of the museum’s namesake, Edward Valentine, a sculptor whose work propped up the “Lost Cause” myth; reinterpreting the Wickham House, a former site of enslavement; and providing a deeper understanding of the Jim Crow era through public programming and online resources.
- Reclaiming the Monument to support its “Recontextualizing Richmond” public art project – a series of temporary light-based artworks addressing issues of historical, racial, and social justice in the city of Richmond, Virginia and the surrounding capital region.
- The Sacred Red Rock (Iⁿ’zhúje’waxóbe) (Lawrence, KS) – The University of Kansas received Mellon funding to support the Iⁿ’zhúje’waxóbe project, covering the significant cost to safely relocate the Sacred Red Rock, a 25-ton stone of deep spiritual and cultural significance to the Kanza people of the Kaw Nation, and to prepare the site to receive it, as well as support programming celebrating its return.
- The Totem Pole Trail (Kootéeyaa Deiyí) (Juneau, AK) – The Sealaska Heritage Institute received Mellon funding to support commissioning Native artists in several Southeast Alaska communities to create ten totem poles for installation along the two-mile public waterfront of downtown Juneau, Alaska. The totem poles convey the history of tribes and individual clans and their relationship to the land, seas, and universe.
- The Trust for the National Mall (Washington, DC) – The Trust for the National Mall (TNM), nonprofit partner of the National Park Service (NPS), received Mellon funding to support the 2023 exhibition Beyond Granite, a set of six dynamic installations on the National Mall. The temporary exhibition, curated by Monument Lab and executed in partnership with the National Capital Planning Commission as well as TNM and NPS explored expressions of a more inclusive, equitable, and representative commemorative landscape in the nation’s public square. Participating artists included Ashon Crawley, Derrick Adams, Paul Ramírez Jonas, Tiffany Chung, vanessa german, and Wendy Red Star.
- Washington National Cathedral’s The Now and Forever Windows (Washington DC) – The Washington National Cathedral received Mellon funding to support the commissioning of The Now and Forever Windows, transformative racial justice-themed stained-glass windows, created by artist Kerry James Marshall, replacing windows depicting confederate leaders, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
To learn more about Mellon’s Monuments Project, please visit mellon.org/article/the-monuments-project-initiative.
About The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. Learn more at mellon.org.
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SOURCE The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
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