What is an appropriate monument in the 21st century?

Mural Arts Philadelphia aims to expand how we define monuments and who or what should be commemorated through Monument LAB, a public art and history project showcasing the work of 21 artists.

"There are countless stories and perspectives that don't get put into bronze and marble," said Paul Farber, artistic director of Monument LAB.

The nine-week, multilocation project, which launches in September, will feature temporary installations in popular public spaces. At a prelaunch celebration Saturday, Mural Arts will showcase interactive sculpture Sample Philly at Franklin Square.

Sample Philly, created by artist Kara Crombie, is a bank and archive of Philly music. Participants can use the sculpture to hear samples by Philly music legends such as Boyz II Men, Schoolly D, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Hall & Oates, and then use these samples to produce their own music — an interactive merging of the old and new.

"Art and history can be activated as a force of reflection and action in the city," Farber said.

In selecting artists for Monument LAB, Mural Arts looked for people who not only loved Philly, but came from diverse backgrounds and worked with diverse media.

Tania Bruguera, an installation and performance artist, will be displaying a  monument to the "new immigrant." Emeka Ogboh, who works with audio, will be creating a monument to sound, collective memory, and poetic storytelling. Marisa Williamson, a performance and video artist, will present a monument to buried African American sites and untold stories.

Jane Golden, executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia, said this is an opportunity to "remix the concept of a monument" and "democratize the vision of Philly."

Joan of Arc, left, and Mary Dyer, memorialized in Philadelphia statues.
CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Joan of Arc, left, and Mary Dyer, memorialized in Philadelphia statues.

There have been concerns surrounding Philadelphia's existing monuments and the picture they paint of the city. For years, people questioned why there was a sculpture of the fictitious Rocky in front of the art museum but not one of real-life boxing legend Joe Frazier. (This prompted the construction of a 12-foot bronze statue of the Hall of Famer outside of Xfinity Live.) Some have called for the removal of the the sculpture of former police commissioner Frank Rizzo in front of the Municipal Service Building. And of the 1,500 public sculptures in Philly, only two are of real women. (That would be Joan of Arc and Mary Dyer, a Quaker martyred for religious freedom.)

During the Monument LAB project, accompanying each of the works will be learning labs at which participants can describe or design their own monuments. Some of the submissions will be shown at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The learning lab prompts asks: What is your vision for a monument for the current city of Philadelphia?

Mural Arts Philadelphia will gather the suggestions and plans next year to provide a report detailing the best ideas.

Sample Philly at Franklin Square
200 N. Sixth St.
1 to 4 p.m. Saturday