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Pulling Together: The National Mall’s New Exhibit | Mailee Phan

Funded by a $4.5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, the sprawling landscape of grass and marble of The National Mall in Washington D.C. is hosting a temporary exhibition called “Pulling Together” that will open in August 2023.

Part of the 60th anniversary celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. led March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the exhibition is set to display six new monuments by multiple artists recognized for their work concerning democracy, including Vanessa German, Ashon Crawley, Wendy Red Star, Paul Ramirez Jones, Derrick Adams, and Tiffany Chung. These artists focus on topics such as restorative justice, the intersection of Black and queer identities, contemporary Crow Indian culture, modern responses to past monuments, tributes to Black modernist artists, and the Vietnamese diaspora, with each bringing distinct perspectives to a collaborative project centered around the Mellon Foundation’s $250 million efforts to reconsider the meanings of public memorials. Derrick Adams, in a statement to The New York Times, said he wishes to display his proposal of a playground with thematic elements of segregation within and outside of the capital, and that “kids will see it as a beacon of education”.

The Trust for the National Mall executive vice president Teresa Durkin says the exhibit will be the park’s first organized collaborative art show. When asked about themes the artists are concerned have been left untold, Paul Farber, one of the curators and the director of the nonprofit Monument Lab, said, “there were a few themes we were interested in seeing, which included diaspora, migration, displacement and civic gathering.”

With this new installation, so too comes a refresher on the democratic foundations the United States is built upon. For such an important exhibit, the location fits well historically, as it once was host to not just Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream'' speech, but also to the AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1987, the “Resurrection City” anti-poverty protest in 1968, and most recently, a memorial for Covid-19 victims. Because The National Mall was created as a place for democratic discussion and political assembly in addition to hosting some of the U.S.’s most famous memorials and exhibitions, a new insight into “stories that haven’t been told”, as the Trust’s Teresa Durkin describes the efforts, seems appropriate in a continuance of these ideals. The monuments should also prove fruitful in sparking new conversations regarding the multifaceted American experience and the lesser addressed components of U.S. history because as David M. Rubenstein, a businessman and philanthropist featured on the Trust for the National Mall’s website, says, “if people come here and see these things first hand, they learn more about our country’s heritage, inspiring them to read more about our nation’s history and democracy, and in turn make them more informed citizens.” Overall, these installations will collectively share a story of the efforts for an inclusive and true democracy.

The collaborative exhibition’s impacts on the history of The National Mall and the surrounding community should prove momentous to the future of art in the U.S.’s promotion of democratic speech upon the 2023 opening. As Paul Farber said, “part of the mission is to have a coalition effort to imagine art as a way forward.”

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