Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

ArtWorks launches 'New Monuments' initiative to 'elevate stories that haven't been told'

looking up angle of a snow-covered statue from the torso up
Sean Foster
Cincinnati statue of James Garfield on a snowy day.

You've seen their murals across Greater Cincinnati, now ArtWorks wants to get into the sculpture and monument business.

The organization is launching "New Monuments," a yearlong project employing teens and young adult artists to imagine new public monuments. The Civic Artist Studio team will be led by local artist Asha White.

"The mission of the New Monuments initiative is to reimagine and rebuild commemorative spaces that celebrate and affirm the historical contributions of the many diverse communities that make up Cincinnati, but also the United States overall," explains Karla Batres Gilvin, director of community impact.

The Civic Artist Studio team will come up with a community engagement plan to be launched in the spring. Community members will be invited to give their ideas and suggestions for what types of sculptures should be created, where they should be located and which stories they should tell.

They'll also consider the "how." For example, maybe a monument has a QR code linking to audio recordings, or descriptions of the monument for the visually impaired.

"We're thinking about where monuments are located currently, and where they could be located," says Batres Gilvin. "How can they benefit the community that they surround? How can they not just be these really still objects that people oftentimes walk by and ignore and they become commonplace?"

The team will also consider how these three-dimensional artworks can activate spaces or become gathering places.

"This (is a) huge task of not only thinking of new monuments broadly and thinking of them outside of the box, but also centering stories and people that have been historically marginalized," she adds.

two people sit on either side of a table, writing on sheets of paper. larger sheets of paper surround them
Civic Studio artists Dani Freeman (left) and Caitlyn Hyland (right) engage in a collaborative studio brainstorming session aimed at ideating questions for surveys and further community engagement planning.

Part of that work includes auditing Greater Cincinnati's existing monuments and creating a database to help figure out what ideas or people are missing.

Batres Gilvin points to a similar, though much larger scale, audit produced by Philadelphia nonprofit Monument Lab. It audited monuments nationwide with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The results were released in 2021.

Key among the findings are that the USA's monument landscape is overwhelming white and male and the most common features reflect war and conquest. It also finds the story of the country as told by monuments misrepresents history.

"What we're wanting to address through this initiative is that the majority of Americans, the majority of community members within Cincinnati, are not represented in the monuments that currently exist," Batres Gilvin says.

"We're trying to think (of) who else can we show. ... It's about including a broader history. It's about elevating stories that haven't been told, or have been put on the side burner."

Batres Gilvin says the goal is to begin creating new monuments in 2024.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.