The New York-based Van Alen Institute has announced a new collaboration with the Trust for the National Mall, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the National Park Service to introduce 8 to 10 commemorative works to Washington, D.C.’s National Mall over the course of two years. The effort, dubbed Beyond Granite, aims to “speak authentically to narratives that have been underrepresented in the American commemorative landscape.”
The National Mall, nicknamed “America’s Front Yard,” has played host to a number of mass demonstrations, historic events, and everyday recreational activities since it assumed its current form in the early 20th century. The looming presences of granite and marble memorials to some of the nation’s conventionally celebrated ‘heroes,’ however, have left many critical figures, stories, and communities unrecognized.
In a move to focus more deliberately on the wishes of various stakeholders, the Van Alen Institute has not specified what (or who) exactly will be commemorated in the 8 to 10 final works selected. In its capacity as program designer, the organization will stage a series of workshops in which these unidentified stakeholders “will develop themes grounded in their expertise, lived experience and cultural histories.”
Van Alen will also work closely with the D.C.- and L.A.-based The Urban Studio, a nonprofit that deploys design thinking methodologies to create more equitable urban environments for historically underserved communities of color. The partners will work together on public outreach and engagement, the final design and installation details for selected projects, and the process of soliciting proposals.
“A welcoming public realm is the foundation of democracy. Our interactions in public space exemplify who we are as a society,” said Deborah Marton, Executive Director, Van Alen Institute, in an announceemnt. “Through Beyond Granite, Van Alen Institute is honored to help expand the stories we tell about our people and to illuminate strengths we share.”
With grant funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project, the Beyond Granite initiative was announced at a time when cities and states across the U.S. are falling under mounting pressure from activist groups, historians, and other citizens to remove celebratory monuments to morally compromised figures in national history. While efforts have focused primarily on statues of the Confederate leaders who fought for the preservation of slavery during the American Civil War, protesters and city leaders alike have also acted to remove or replace monuments to Christopher Columbus and slave-owning presidents like Ulysses S. Grant and Thomas Jefferson.
Beyond Granite will run as a pilot program from 2022 until 2023, with details on the solicitation and selection process slated for release sometime next year. At the time of writing, it is still unclear whether any of the commemorative installations will ever be reconfigured as permanent memorials on the Mall.