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Drexel’s ‘The Monument We Make’ event examines art’s purpose | The Triangle

Drexel’s ‘The Monument We Make’ event examines art’s purpose

Photo by Samuel Gregg | The Triangle

On April 3, Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design hosted “The Monument We Make,” an event backed by Philadelphia Contemporary, Ars Nova Workshop, and Forman Arts Initiative, in partnership with Monument Lab, Gray Gallery, and the Mellon Foundation. Split into three parts, “The Monument We Make” commemorated the unique purpose of the Monument in Waiting sculpture, which lies at the Korman Family Quad, and the creativity of the monument’s creator. 

The event started with a performance celebrating the Monument in Waiting by the band Mind Maintenance consisting of Joshua Abrams, who plays the guembri, and Chad Taylor, who plays the mbira. After the last song, the audience moved to the Mandell Theater for a panel about preserving monuments and redefining their significance moderated by the Dean of Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Jason Schupbach. 

The speakers offering their expertise included Mellon Foundation President Dr. Elizabeth Alexander and Monument Lab Executive Director Dr. Paul Farber; along with the creator of Monument in Waiting, Theaster Gates. At the event’s conclusion, Gates was presented with an honorary doctorate from President John Fry before the attendees received a closing reception by the Drexel Jazztet in the Behrakis Grand Hall.

Photo by Samuel Gregg | The Triangle

These praises for the Monument in Waiting underscored the true reason for discussing its significance at Drexel.

According to Philadelphia Contemporary Managing Director JJ El-Far, “Monument in Waiting is emblematic of the moment in which it was created. It anchors conversations about whose stories we celebrate, and how artists have the power to inform our shared values through the monuments we make.” By displaying a piece of art valued by a local organization on campus, Drexel made it clear that community outreach is crucial in all aspects of being a university in a major city. 

Part of the Monument in Waiting’s significance at Drexel is also what the sculpture represents about creativity. “Students, faculty, and staff regularly work alongside local residents to inspire change and create art of all kinds— while building lasting bonds that move our communities forward,” says Associate Director of University Marketing & Communications Emily Storz.

Further, the Monument in Waiting also creates opportunities for a more holistic approach to art education at Westphal. “If we got used to understanding how to look at abstract art (or dance or music or theater…), at a young age, we just might be better at tolerating ambiguity altogether,” says Dr. Miriam Giguere, the Department Head for Performing Arts at Westphal. 

To host such a special event, Drexel University and Philadelphia Contemporary were diligent in making an effort to properly honor Theaster Gates and his monument for all its worth, splendor, and messages. “Drexel recognizes the value of using art as a dynamic and vibrant connection to our surrounding communities,” says Storz.

This event marks the start of a new wave of art-based education in hopes of a reframed understanding of an artwork’s purpose. Drexel’s conversation around the Monument in Waiting indicates that the university plans to find even more creative ways to expose its students to new ideas on how to rethink the way they perceive abstract art and monuments.