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Timely Monument Lab exhibit asks: What is an appropriate monument for Philly?

As divisive memorials get removed around the country, a new public art exhibit questions what makes a monument

Will the Frank L. Rizzo Memorial at Thomas Paine Plaza be removed?
Courtesy of Flickr/Jim, the Photographer

Following this past weekend’s violent and deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the debate around certain monuments and what they stand for has re-emerged in areas around the country, including cities like Baltimore, Chicago, and now Philly.

Earlier this week, City Councilwoman Helen Gym made the public call to remove the Frank L. Rizzo monument once and for all from Thomas Paine Plaza in Center City once and for all. Talks have also emerged regarding the removal of South Philly mural that memorializes Rizzo.

Now, a city-wide public art exhibition that’s been two years in the making is set to launch in Philly and attempt to answer these very questions: What makes a monument? And who gets to make those decisions?

Monument Lab is set to return to Philly on September 16 for its second year, bringing temporary public art to 10 locations across the city created by 20 artists, and more than 20 events in the communities in and around the installations.

Each installation and event will be centered around answering one question: What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?

Jane Golden of the Mural Arts, which is partnering with Monument Lab this year, said in a statement, “The range, depth, and breadth of their ideas will have a major impact on the city at a time when it’s more important than ever to have conversations about how we want to be represented in public space.”

Indeed, Monument Lab will launch on September 16, just as City Council reconvenes and Gym makes the removal of the Rizzo statue a top priority.

The 9-foot-tall bronze statue was erected at Thomas Paine Plaza across from City Hall in 1998. But this request to remove the monument has surfaced time and time again over the years, given Rizzo’s past: The divisive mayor and police commissioner was known for his tough tactics, especially against African Americans and the LBTQ community.

The Frank L. Rizzo Monument isn’t the only memorial dedicated to the two-term mayor. His face also graces a mural in South Philly that has been vandalized repeatedly over the years. The Mural Arts told the Inquirer that they are also in talks about the future of the mural.

The future of a mural of Frank L. Rizzo in South Philly remains uncertain.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In response to Gym’s call, Mayor Jim Kenney said that “now is the right time” to begin discussions about the removal of the statue.

The public will be able to hash through their own discussions of the statue and Philly’s other old, new, and future monuments in general at the many Monument Lab sites, which will be home to learning labs. These labs will encourage people to design or describe their ideas of the right monuments for Philly.

Monument Lab will run from September 16 through November 19. Its locations will be within the city’s five public squares, City Hall, and five neighborhood parks including Penn Treaty Park, Vernon Park, Norris Square, Malcolm X Park, and Marconi Plaza.

Artist Tyree Guyton works on his massive Monument Lab mural in Kensington.
Photo by Steve Weinik for Mural Arts

Thomas Paine Plaza

1401 John F Kennedy Boulevard, , PA 19102

Franklin Square

200 North 6th Street, , PA 19106 (215) 629-4026 Visit Website

Penn Treaty Park

1301 North Beach Street, , PA 19125 Visit Website