Chicago Monuments Project receives $6.8 million from Mellon Foundation

On Juneteenth of 2023, the Mellon Foundation announced a grant of $6.8 million to The City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) to support the Chicago Monuments Project (CMP) and citywide community-generated commemorative initiatives and installations. Funding from the Mellon Foundation will allow for the implementation of new Chicago monuments, including the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial. 

These projects will add—permanently and temporarily—to the City of Chicago’s collection and memorialize events, people, and groups that historically have been excluded or underrepresented. Additional funding from Mellon will also support ongoing programs that facilitate the continued engagement of artists and communities around monuments, public art, and cultural history.

Launched in 2020, the Mellon Monuments Project is a five-year, $250 million commitment to reimagine and rebuild commemorative spaces and transform the way history is told in the United States. The Mellon grant provided to DCASE is the largest grant provided under this initiative to date.

“Chicago’s monuments and memorials are more than just public art — they speak directly to the values, history, and vision of our great city,” Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said. “I’m grateful for the Mellon Foundation’s support of the Chicago Monuments Project and the creation of cultural works around labor, civil rights, racial justice and other areas that represent our diversity, honor our history and tell our story.”

The Chicago Monuments Project was created as a response to the City of Chicago’s need for a larger reckoning with monuments that symbolize outdated values and do not tell the story—or the full story—of Chicago’s history. A collaboration between DCASE, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and the Chicago Park District (CPD), CMP’s work began in 2020 and was guided by an advisory committee of community leaders, artists, architects, scholars, curators, and City officials.

“This catalytic support from the Mellon Foundation will fundamentally strengthen our City as our public art collection becomes more honest and inclusive. We are thrilled to celebrate and support these grantees, many of whom have been hard at work for years to see that important stories are made visible,” DCASE Commissioner Erin Harkey said. “Mellon’s funding will enable the City to continue to thoughtfully and creatively engage with the complex, ever-evolving issues related to identity, justice, public space and our shared history.” 

The Chicago Monuments Project Advisory Committee released its final report in August 2022, synthesized from a comprehensive, community-focused engagement process—the first of its kind in a major U.S. city. Thousands of Chicagoans from diverse communities contributed to the conversation on the city’s public monuments through several modes including surveys, live discussions, and free-response public feedback submitted via ChicagoMonuments.org.

While significant attention was paid to issues pertaining to the existing collection, CMP agreed that its most important work was in the development of new works that will tell an inclusive story going forward.

As part of its engagement process, CMP released a call, “Reimagining Monuments: Request for Ideas,” to solicit proposals from individual artists and community groups that rethink the place, purpose, and permanence of monuments in our public spaces. Eight new works were conceived and DCASE provided initial planning grants of $50,000 to organizations to help develop the project proposals.

Funding from the Mellon Foundation will help support the implementation of the eight priority projects and themes that were identified through the CMP new work engagement process:

  • Chicago Torture Justice Memorial, artist Patricia Nguyen and architectural designer John Lee
  • George Washington Monument Intervention, a new public art project by renowned Chicago artist Amanda Williams
  • A Long Walk Home (ALWH), “#SayHerName: The Rekia Boyd Monument Project”
  • Mother Jones, in partnership with the Mother Jones Heritage Project (MJHP), a commission to honor Mother Jones’s important contributions to labor history
  • Mahalia Jackson monument by artist Gerald Griffin, spearheaded by the Greater Chatham Initiative (GCI)
  • Pilsen Latina Histories, lead artist Diana Solis, scholars from the University of Illinois, Pilsen Arts & Community House staff, and additional artists and community groups in Pilsen
  • Chicago Race Riots of 1919 Commemoration Project, designed and produced in partnership with youth artists at Firebird Community Arts’ Project FIRE
  • Early Chicago, a series of monuments that explore the settling of Chicago, including those to Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable and Kitihawa, and  projects which amplify Native American stories

The new projects are in various stages of development—some have been in development for many years and are seeking the assistance of DCASE to help implement existing designs, other projects are new ideas where designs still need to be created.

Additional funding from Mellon will also support ongoing programs that facilitate the continued engagement of artists and communities, including the creation of a website, updating of signage, the development of public art education programs and tools, and funding for a comprehensive inventory, documentation, and condition assessment of the City’s collection.

Chicago Monuments Project New Commissions to be Implemented

Chicago Torture Justice Memorial

The Chicago Torture Justice Memorial, to be located on the south side of Chicago, is designed by artist Patricia Nguyen and architectural designer John Lee. The project is a public memorial dedicated to torture survivors of Jon Burge and police in his Midnight Crew.

Mellon funds will support the construction of a memorial to the victims that was included in a historic reparation ordinance passed by City Council in 2015. The memorial aims to commemorate the struggle for justice and for reparations and to serve as a site for ongoing community building and healing.

George Washington Monument intervention

A new public art project by renowned Chicago artist Amanda Williams will intervene with the George Washington monument located in a public right of way in Bronzeville on the south side of Chicago. Williams will explore the complicated connection between George Washington and the Black community by connecting famous figures like Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, and everyday people who also carry the name.

Mellon funds will support the project, which hopes to use engagement to build a collective history that recontextualizes the monument within the Black experience, leading to a temporary artistic intervention at the site.

A Long Walk Home

The Visibility Project: Black Girl Take Over Douglass Park, Sarah Ji, 2018.
The Visibility Project: Black Girl Take Over Douglass Park, Sarah Ji, 2018. Courtesy of A Long Walk Home

A Long Walk Home (ALWH), an arts organization that empowers young people to end violence against girls and women, is committed to activating public spaces with the visions of Black girls and young women. “#SayHerName: The Rekia Boyd Monument Project” will engage Black girls and young women as citizen-artists who will research and help design a temporary monument in Douglass Park on the west side of Chicago, with the goal of working toward a permanent commemorative structure.

Funding from Mellon will support phase one of the project, which will include community engagement and design.

Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson Court is a new plaza and community gathering space located at the intersection of 79th Street and State Street, which was previously vacant. Funding from Mellon will support the commissioning a site-specific monument to legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

This project is spearheaded by the Greater Chatham Initiative (GCI) and Carter Temple Church, who own the site. The artist, Gerald Griffin will design, fabricate, and install this new monument, which will memorialize a critical Chicago figure in the community where she lived and embodied her story.

Pilsen Latina Histories

Mujeres Latinas en Acción Open House with “Aunt” Grace González (center), Pilsen, Chicago, 1977. For opening of newly rehabbed office on 800 block of 17th Street. Photo by Diana Solís.
Mujeres Latinas en Acción Open House with “Aunt” Grace González (center), Pilsen, Chicago, 1977. For opening of newly rehabbed office on 800 block of 17th Street. Photo by Diana Solís. Copyright Diana Solís. Source: Diana Solís Personal collection.

Inspired by the book Chicanas of 18th Street: Narratives of a Movement from Latino Chicago, lead artist Diana Solis, scholars from the University of Illinois, Pilsen Arts & Community House staff, and additional artists and community groups in Pilsen will mark historic events that have shaped the Latina/x experience in this near south side neighborhood.

Mellon funds will support the initial year of Pilsen Latina Histories (planning phase)in which team leads will mobilize initial public art engagement activities, temporary projects, and workshops to garner larger community feedback around how to represent untold histories through new monuments.

We Shall Rise: Mother Jones

DCASE, in partnership with the Mother Jones Heritage Project (MJHP), seeks to remember Mother Jones’s important contributions to labor history. Building on years of traveling exhibitions and tours and with support from DCASE Public Art staff, the MJHP will play a lead role in community engagement activities to further inform the commissioning of the Mother Jones statue.

Mellon funds will support additional community engagement, artist design fees, fabrication, and installation expenses.

Chicago 1919 Race Riots

The Chicago Race Riots of 1919 Commemoration Project will create a series of artistic markers to honor the 38 people killed during the thirteen days of racially motivated and brutal conflict. The markers will be designed and produced in partnership with youth artists at Firebird Community Arts Project FIRE.

Mellon funds will support project plans to create durable glass bricks engraved with the names of the victims and installed across Chicago’s southwest side, in predominantly Black and Brown residential areas where the riots took place.

Early Chicago

Ever since the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, Black and Haitian-American Chicagoans as well as American Indian residents have called for appropriate recognition of the achievements and importance of Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable and his Potawatomi wife, Kitihawa. DuSable has long been recognized as Chicago’s first non-indigenous settler. 

DCASE will work with the Chicago Park District to commission a series of monuments that explore the settling of Chicago, including projects which amplify historic and notable Native Americans.

The Chicago Monuments Project

The Chicago Monuments Project grappled with the often unacknowledged – or forgotten – history associated with the City’s various municipal art collections and provided a vehicle to address the hard truths of Chicago’s racial history, confront the ways in which that history has and has not been memorialized, and develop a framework for marking public space that elevates new ways to memorialize Chicago’s history more equitably and accurately.

The project had four main objectives, including:

  • Cataloging monuments and public art on City or Park District property;
  • Appointing an advisory committee to determine which pieces warrant attention or action;
  • Making recommendations for new monuments or public art that could be commissioned; and
  • Creating a platform for the public to engage in a civic dialogue about Chicago’s history.

Mellon Foundation

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding.

The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there.

Through our grants, we seek to build communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. Learn more at mellon.org.

Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

 The City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) supports artists and cultural organizations, invests in the creative economy, and expands access and participation in the arts throughout Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods. As a collaborative cultural presenter, arts funder, and advocate for creative workers, our programs and events serve Chicagoans and visitors of all ages and backgrounds, downtown and in diverse communities across our city — to strengthen and celebrate Chicago.

DCASE produces some of the city’s most iconic festivals, markets, events, and exhibitions at the Chicago Cultural Center, Millennium Park, and in communities across the city — serving a local and global audience of 25 million people. The Department offers cultural grants and resources, manages public art, supports TV and film production and other creative industries, and permits special events throughout Chicago.

For details, visit Chicago.gov/DCASE and stay connected via our newsletters and social media.

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