There is always a hint of unintended irony in the name of the National Mall. America’s great green space in the middle of Washington, DC, is not really a place where America’s favorite pastime – shopping – takes place. Rather, it is a space for monument and protest.
In this vein, today at 10:00 during a live broadcast event, details will be revealed for the new public art initiative “Beyond Granite,” a series of artist prototypes for installations to be unveiled throughout 2023, centered on the National Mall. The series aims to serve as an experiment in how public art can transform the National Mall into “a more inclusive, just and representative process for commemoration,” according to organizers.
Titled “Pulling Together,” the first show, curated by Monument Lab’s Paul Farber and Salamishah Tillet, features artists including Vanessa German, Derrick Adams, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Tiffany Chung, Wendy RedStar and Ashon Crawley. The selected cohort are all “contemporary artists who think about American history, engage in public art projects at scale, and represent the diversity and breadth of our country since its inception,” Tillet said.
The final works will not be revealed until next fall, and the details of each individual project are also being kept under wraps, but according to the curators, the show takes its overall inspiration from a moving 1939 performance by Black opera singer Marian Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the Mall’s west end, after she was barred from singing in Constitution Hall. This, in turn, prompted Civil Rights activist Mary Mcleod Bethune to write that the public concert “told a story of hope for tomorrow—a story of triumph—a story of rallying, a story of splendor and truth democracy.”
Perhaps for obvious reasons, the Lincoln Memorial steps have become a symbolic space in American history, hosting other memorable events, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the AIDS Memorial Quilt project. “We wanted to draw on those histories.” Tilled said. “What are the ways in which people could gather on the Mall in a form of dissent and democracy?”
Funded by a $4.5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, in partnership with the Trust for the National Mall, the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service, the project is “the result of federal and local agencies investing and are bound in how the past/present/future of our monuments coexist, and see art at its core,” Farber said. He added that “part of the mission is to have a coalition effort to make art as a suggest a way forward.”
“Doing a public art project of this scale and scope, with sensitivity, really encourages us to think about how we can be together again as a people,” Tillet said. “It often feels like there isn’t much to be optimistic about. I think when people come together and see themselves in monuments and understand other histories and people that they didn’t have before, with compassion and a sense of community, with this creative background, it’s really inspiring. At least for me. I hope it inspires us all to see each other as a citizenry through these gatherings.”
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