ArtWorks reimagines the future of public art with New Monuments Initiative

Of the 50 figures with the most U.S. monuments, only five are people of color. 22 depict mermaids, but just two depict congresswomen. For comparison, the most popular honoree, Abraham Lincoln, has 193 monuments.
Monument Lab’s National Monument Audit
In September 2021, a statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from a Virginia street and moved to Richmond’s Black History Museum. That same year, Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit conducted an audit to count and categorize the nation’s public monuments and memorials.

These findings helped inspire a new initiative in Cincinnati that hopes to drive change locally and nationally on how we see public art.

ArtWorks, the vibrant force known for mural creation in Cincinnati, started the New Monument Initiative, a yearlong artist and community engagement project in early 2023, with a goal to foster dialogue and imagine new public monuments that celebrate and affirm the historical contributions of the many diverse communities and individuals that make up Cincinnati.

To do this, ArtWorks hired a team of ten young adult artists (ages 18 -24) as part of a Civic Arts Studio led by local artist Asha White, a practicing artist, curator, master’s student at UC’s DAAP and active member of Black Art Speaks.

One-on-one and group discussions have led to greater understanding of the future of public art. Photo by Pixxel Designs.This team has partnered with organizations that are tapped into the diverse communities within Cincinnati. They solicited feedback at the Asian Food Festival, RefugeeConnect's World Refugee Day Cup, the Cincinnati Pride Festival, Taste of Cincinnati, Queens Village Cincinnati’s Blossom & Bloom, and other events.

In addition, the five-minute public survey is a key part of the process.

“Our work facilitates learning opportunities to strengthen the Civic Studio Artist’s social justice art practice,” White said. “This work will lead young artists through the process of self-reflection, community listening, and research on the current state of monuments including their history and evolution, which will culminate in the sharing of the knowledge obtained through visual reflections and a written report.”

This project is a part of ArtWorks’ strategic plan to provide year-round employment for artists of all ages.

Civic Art Studio Artist Zero Pruitt worked with the community at outreach events. Photo by Pixxel Designs.
“Creating change doesn't always have to be huge, it can also be small changes slowly building up to great change,” said Zero Pruitt, Civic Studio Artist, and Art Academy of Cincinnati student. “The work we are doing is important because it gives people a chance to take part in making a difference in their community. We can talk to people and develop lasting relationships in which our mission can be spread worldwide.”
These are some of the questions being asked through this initiative:
  • What are monuments?
  • Who/what deserves to be recognized?
  • What untold stories exist in our city?
  • Who has power?
“Diversity and passion make progress happen,” said Claire Wagner, Civic Studio artist, and undergrad at UC’s Lindner College of Business. “After seven months working on this initiative, we love what we do and are passionate about giving a platform to Cincinnatians, especially to those whose voices aren't heard often enough, to inform the future of monuments.”

A New Monuments Advisory Committee made up of business, government, social welfare, and education sectors of our region, will guide and support the work.

ArtWorks is planning an event in January 2024 to unveil and celebrate the final report from the New Monuments Initiative.

“Part of the initiative includes continuing to fundraise to support the creation and fabrication of new public monuments,” said Colleen Houston, CEO, and artistic director of ArtWorks. “We are committed to involving young artists in public artwork and community engagement, and as a result, we are building civic leaders and advocates for our future who will uphold inclusion and collaboration.”

Support for this project has been provided by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr. Foundation.
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