Summer Centered: Exploring American History, One Monument at a Time
During a summer internship at Philadelphia's Monument Lab, Maya Plimack '24 is doing curatorial research and aiding preparations for an outdoor exhibition on the National Mall in Washingtong, D.C.
As the United States approaches its 250th anniversary Philadelphia will be at the center of conversations about the country’s past and present. With three years to go, the team at nonprofit public art and history studio Monument Lab are already preparing for projects that will bring emerging artists into the fold to offer new perspectives on American history.
Maya Plimack ’24 has been right in the middle of it all during an internship at Monument Lab this summer sponsored by the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities. She’s conducting curatorial research to aid the effort of seeking out sculptors, muralists, poets, and other artists who can contribute their own ideas to the monument-making process with history in mind.
“In a region that is so closely tied to the era of the American Revolution, it will be important to consider how the founding of this country is remembered and how we understand our nationhood and history today,” says Plimack.
In addition to her work related to the country’s semiquincentennial, Plimack is helping with the logistical preparations for Monument Lab’s current project, “Beyond Granite: Pulling Together,” the first curated outdoor exhibition on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., which opens in August. It will include several large-scale installations, as well as public programming.
As a Growth and Structure of Cities major, Plimack said she’s always taken an interest in urban history and how people relate to the spaces around them. Growing up in Philadelphia, she’s often considered how the experience of navigating the city today offers people a chance to connect back to its long history.
She was drawn to Monument Lab’s effort to address the lack of representation often found in public spaces and historical narratives through the use of art. Working alongside Aubree Penney ’13, a curatorial associate and assistant to the director of Monument Lab, has given Plimack an opportunity to learn about ways to make the art world more inclusive and accessible, she says.
In her classes on sociology and visual studies at Haverford, Plimack has contemplated the way that institutions shape culture and define history. Now, she’s learning how to participate in that process herself.
“Working at Monument Lab has shown me how to take the theory that I have learned in my courses and begin to translate it to real-world projects and interventions in public spaces,” she says.
Through her first experience at a nonprofit, Plimack has seen what it takes for an organization to uphold its values while working with partners to bring its vision to fruition. She’s also learned how to balance short- and long-term planning, as well as how to raise up community voices through her interactions with local artists. She’s spent the summer contemplating how she could connect her interests in art, history, and public spaces, into a career after college.
“I have seen how many different skillsets are needed to get these projects off the ground,” Plimack said. “Knowing that there are so many jobs out there that touch on these topics and values has reminded me that there are many paths to fulfilling work.”