Philadelphia is known for its unusual public art — from the Claes Oldenburg Clothespin to the “Bolt of Lightning” by Isamu Noguchi at the Ben Franklin Bridge.
But should a monument to current-day Philadelphia pay tribute to the epidemic of violence that the city faces?
That was one of the proposals put forward at Monument Lab, an ongoing research project in an open classroom inside the City Hall courtyard.
The project is about “history, healing and memory,” according to co-curator Paul Farber.
“Sites of memory matter. They matter for societies to tell the noble memories, and to help societies heal and transform,” Farber said.
To the end of gathering the public’s ideas, an open classroom has been set up for the past two weeks to receive sketches of proposed monuments from the public.
An iceberg was the proposal put forward by Philadelphia Police Department Capt. Altovise Love-Craighead, founder of EMIR (Every Murder is Real), along with Drexel public health professor Jonathan Purtle, when they spoke at Monument Lab on Wednesday.
“We only see the tip of the iceberg,” Love-Craighead said of her proposal. “A young African-American male becomes violent, he obtains a weapon, he harms another African-American male. But what’s beneath?”
In painful detail, Love-Craighead described how trauma and poverty trap young men in the cycle of violence — from an underprivileged childhood, to exposure to violence in the streets, to further and further isolation from experiencing life as a safe space.
“This is the iceberg getting bigger. Now he’s a menace to society,” she said.
For Love-Craighead, whose brother was murdered in 1997, the story is all too personal.
She also said that she herself is the tip of an iceberg — with what’s underneath being the strong family, sense of faith and support network that helped her overcome the agony of losing a loved one.
Love-Craighead’s group, EMIR, which is named after her late brother, now operates a Healing Center, and provides service for family members of homicide victims.
To Farber, who is seeking out monument proposals regardless of financial or realistic constraint, the iceberg proposal touches on the realities of the city — with school budget cuts, violence and poverty ever present.
“Even if it’s as fantastical as an iceberg, there’s an important connection to the present-day reality,” he said.
That reality is unavoidable for Love-Craighead.
Just minutes after she finished describing her proposal, she was called away to deal with a shooting in the 16th District. (See below for details of the incident).
Many of the suggestions for monuments people have brought forward deal with division across neighborhoods, addiction and violence, and improving education, and stories of Philadelphians engaged in social justice, Farber said.
Photographer Zoe Strauss proposed a new monument for Logan Square entitled “The Walking Purchase Path” — intended to commemorate how statesman John Logan violated William Penn’s historic treaty with the Lenape Indians.
Logan forged Penn’s signature on a deed that stated settlers would own any land a man could walk within a day and a half — then sent runners to cover more than 50 miles each, before transferring nearly a million acres to the settlers.
Strauss’ proposed monument, which is intentionally impossible, would include three 65-mile walking paths extending outward from Logan Square, with markers stating who owns the land every mile.
Out of the approximately 325 proposal put forward so far, others include a large monument of the word “Equality.” Another is for man-made mountains in the city’s vacant lots. One person suggested a memorial made out of the materials of urban decay.
There is no concrete schedule for realizing these monument proposals, but the curators hope the conversation will lead the way towards a citywide monuments festival.
Monument Lab will be open in the City Hall courtyard through June 7.
UPDATE June 8:
After this story was originally published, the Philadelphia Police Department responded to confirm that the shooting Love-Craighead responded to on June 3 was a non-fatal incident.
According to police, around 12:22 p.m. police received reports of the shooting outside a West Philly food market.
A 38-year-old customer inside a small grocery store was shot in the right hand and back by an employee after a verbal dispute. The employee fled. No arrests were reported. Two guns were recovered from the location, police said. The man with gunshot wounds was taken to Presbyterian Hospital and underwent surgery.