Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Pledges $250 Million to Reimagine US Monuments

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Pledges $250 Million to Reimagine US Monuments

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest humanities philanthropy in the United States, has pledged to spend $250 million over five years to help reimagine the country’s approach to monuments and memorials, in an effort to better reflect the nation’s diversity and highlight buried or marginalized stories.

The Monuments Project, the largest initiative in the foundation’s 50-year history, will support the creation of new monuments, as well as the relocation or rethinking of existing ones.

And it defines “monument” broadly to include not just memorials, statues and markers but also “storytelling spaces,” as the foundation puts it, like museums and art installations.

“The beauty of monuments as a rubric is, it’s really a way of asking, ‘How do we say who we are? How do we teach our history in public places?’” Elizabeth Alexander, the foundation’s president, said.

“So much teaching happens without us going into a classroom, and without us realizing we’re being taught,” she continued. “We want to ask how we can help think about how to give form to the beautiful and extraordinary and powerful multiplicity of American stories.”

The announcement comes amid intensifying challenges to Confederate monuments and other controversial memorials, a number of which have come down across the country in the wake of this summer’s protests over racism and police violence. The initiative also arrives as the foundation, which has an endowment of more than $6 billion, has officially revised its mission to put social justice at the center of its support for scholarly research, higher education and the arts.

Even before the reset, Mellon had spent $25 million on monument-related projects over the past two years. Grants have included $5 million to support the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery, Ala., which honors Black lynching victims across the country, and $250,000 for a monument in New York’s Central Park to an African-American abolitionist family who lived in Seneca Village, a 19th-century Black community razed to build the park.

The first major grant under the new $250 million initiative will be a $4 million, three-year gift to Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based public art and research studio that works with artists and community groups across the country to “reimagine public spaces through stories of social justice and equity,” according to its website...

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