The Mellon Foundation has announced the Monuments Project, a five-year, $250 million commitment to support efforts to recalibrate the assumed centre of the America national narrative to include those who have been denied historical recognition.
‘Statues are not just bodies in bronze, and monuments are not just stone pillars. They instruct. They lift up the stories of those who are seen, dominate the stories of those who are unseen, and too often propagate menacingly incomplete accounts of our country’s past’, the Mellon Foundation said in a statement.
Grants under the Monuments Project will go toward funding new monuments, memorials, or historic storytelling spaces; contextualising existing monuments or memorials through installations, research, and education; and relocating existing monuments or memorials.
A referendum on symbols of racism
The Mellon Foundation’s commitment to recalibrating history comes amid a focus on what statues and monuments are standing for in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. Just one of numerous incidents, protestors in Bristol, England, earlier this summer toppled a state of philanthropist and slave trader Edward Colston and tossed it into the river.
American states, particularly those in the South, are reckoning with their confederate monuments – with Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Texas leading when it comes to removing statues this year.
The referendum on statues and monuments has also made its way to the White House: President Donald Trump passed an Executive Order in June ‘protecting American monuments, memorials, and statues and combatting recent criminal violence’ that would make it possible to arrest and charge anyone found interfering with a statue or monument. He also announced a ‘National Garden of American Heroes’ that would include states of figures such as George Washington, evangelical Christian preacher Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan, and Christopher Columbus.
A new focus for Mellon’s work in education
Mellon’s commitment to the Monuments Project, which is the largest initiative in the foundation’s 50-year history, comes just after it officially revised its mission to put social justice at the centre of its support for scholarly research, higher education, and the arts.
‘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?”’ said Mellon President Elizabeth Alexander to the New York Times.
‘So much teaching happens without us going into a classroom, and without us realising we’re being taught. 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.’