Mellon Foundation Raises Funding for Its Monuments Project to Half a Billion Dollars

The foundation has already spent more than $170 million to fund at least 80 public art projects.

Vanessa German. Of Thee We Sing (2023). Photo by Ike Edeani for Mellon Foundation

The Mellon Foundation has raised its funding to half a billion dollars for its Monuments Project, an initiative to provide grants that support the creation of new memorials celebrating the history of the United States.

The foundation first launched the Monuments Project with $250 million in funding in 2020, in response to what it saw as “a woefully incomplete story” of the nation as told through civic art. At that time, the country was reeling from the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, sparking renewed efforts to remove Confederate statues around the country. This trend has been debated over the years, and Artnet previously spoke with a dozen experts, some of whom noted that historians have argued controversial memorials should be kept, with contextualizing plagues.

Though political discussions about such monuments have died down recently, the political landscape in the U.S. has led to new challenges in presenting a complete picture of the nation’s history. “Mellon’s expanded investment comes at a critical time in our nation’s history with book banning and criminalization of knowledge increasing in schools, universities, and libraries across the country,” the foundation said in a news release.

Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander said in a statement that the increased contribution reflects “the urgency and the gravity” of fostering more inclusive storytelling. “We stand at the beginning of this significant collective effort to make sure that our public spaces convey the truth about our history and shift who has the power to shape our present and our future,” Alexander said.

In July, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation establishing a national monument dedicated to Emmett Till. The 14-year-old Black teenager was brutally murdered in 1955, after a white woman accused him of making inappropriate advances. His mother Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley fought to have her son’s death recognized as a tragic outcome of racism, and she became a leading Civil Rights Activist.

The Mellon Foundation has provided significant funding to several organizations, including the National Park Foundation, for the creation of the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument in Sumner, Mississippi and Chicago, Illinois. The Mellon Foundation added that it has spent more than $170 million since the project’s inception to fund at least 80 projects of varying sizes.

The foundation also gave a grant to Monument Lab, a public art nonprofit based in Philadelphia, that erected six of its own pieces in a temporary exhibit on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., trying to bring more inclusive and representative commemorative artworks to the nation’s capital.

Monument Lab’s $4 million research grant allowed it to audit national, state, and local monuments in the U.S., an endeavor that found that 42 of the 50 most-memorialized figures were white men, and 25 owned slaves.

 

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