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Boston to receive $3 million for program aimed at sparking dialogue around monuments

City is one of nine municipalities to receive funding from the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project.

A woman passes tulips near the George Washington statue in the Public Garden in Boston in April 2022.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The City of Boston will be awarded $3 million to spark new dialogue around city monuments, the Mellon Foundation announced Monday.

Launched in 2020, The Monuments Project is a $250 million effort to reshape the way our nation tells its history through initiatives such as funding new monuments, contextualizing or relocating existing ones, and increasing public awareness of their influence.

Boston is one of nine municipalities nationwide to receive a total of $25 million from the foundation. The other recipients include Asheville, N.C.; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Providence; and San Francisco.

Each municipality was invited by the foundation to submit grant proposals outlining its plan to use the money. Boston will put the funding toward launching “Un-monument | Re-monument | De-Monument: Transforming Boston,” aimed at fostering critical conversations about city monuments through public art installations and related programming, according to the foundation’s press release.

“We’re a city that has a really specific, long-standing narrative that we tell ourselves and the rest of the world about the Revolution and the Freedom Trail and the beginnings of American democracy,” said Kara Elliott-Ortega, the city’s chief of arts and culture. “And I think if we can elevate more histories … we can start to tell a much richer, fuller, and more diverse version of that story.”

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Elliott-Ortega hopes the programming will encourage Bostonians to ask themselves about the city’s existing monuments, what they represent, and what they might be lacking.

Karin Goodfellow, a Boston native and the city’s director of public art, said “Un-monument | Re-monument | De-Monument: Transforming Boston” is still in the early stages, with programming not set to begin until next spring or summer; but organizers already have a number of projects in the works. Goodfellow noted the city has been “thinking creatively about all the different kinds of ways we can engage around monuments” for decades.

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“There are monuments … that are begging for conversation,” she said.

Throughout the summer and fall, Goodfellow and her colleagues will meet with curatorial community partners to discuss commissions. These partners include the Pao Arts Center in Chinatown, the North American Indian Center of Boston, Emerson Contemporary, Now + There, and the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists

“This is about public art, but it’s also about representation more broadly,” Elliott-Ortega said. “And so, we want to make sure that we’re not just doing this in a silo.”

For Elliott-Ortega, “Un-monument | Re-monument | De-Monument: Transforming Boston” is about giving all Bostonians a voice in how their city represents them.

“I think people will feel like they’re really part of what comes next,” she said.


Nicole Kagan can be reached at nicole.kagan@globe.com. Follow her @nicolekagan_.