THE STATE OF COMMEMORATION IN WASHINGTON
The Lincoln Memorial
Historically, memorials and other permanent commemorative works in Washington have been designed for the ages, featuring works of stone and granite.
In 1986, Congress passed the Commemorative Works Act (CWA) to formalize the process for building new memorials on federal property in the nation’s capital. The process can be complex and lengthy, and the rules under the CWA exclude certain subject matter from being commemorated. Furthermore, the cost of building a new memorial can be prohibitive, with price tags ranging from $60 to $120 million. As a result, many worthy commemorative proposals go unrealized.
Additionally, many of Washington’s new memorials are being designed within a solemn landscape — often encompassing multiple acres — that is dedicated solely to that purpose. As new permanent memorials are dedicated, increasing amounts of the city’s parkland and public spaces are removed from recreational and general civic use.
EXPLORING TEMPORARY COMMEMORATION
Beyond Granite 2010 Speaker Series Event
To explore the potential for new types of commemorative works in Washington, NCPC sponsored a forum in December 2010 entitled Beyond Granite: Global Approaches to Public Art and Placemaking. The program, which was co-sponsered by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the British Council, and the Trust for the National Mall , featured public artists and arts administrators discussing temporary commemorative works in other cities – such as the World Trade Center Tribute in Light and London’s Fourth Plinth program in Trafalgar Square.
Experiences from other cities have shown that temporary commemorative works provide a means to recognize issues and events that might not otherwise fit within the confines of the traditional process and requirements for creating new memorials. In addition, they can enrich a city’s cultural landscape, alleviate pressure to set aside land for permanent memorial sites, and create opportunities for artists to experiment with new and dynamic designs and materials.
Some of benefits of temporary commemoration include:
- Relevance. Although commemoration is a tribute to the past, works are measured by their ability to remain timely in the future. A temporary exhibit could provide an important venue to explore more timely designs and diverse themes that appeal to new audiences.
- Affordability. Costs of permanent commemoration projects range from $60 to over $120 million for major projects and may take 10 years or more to complete authorization, fundraising, approvals, and construction. The high cost of entry and complex process makes it difficult to bring a project to fruition. Temporary exhibits could make commemorating history more affordable for potential sponsors.
- Integration. Recent proposals for new memorials have been multi-acre projects, often including several commemorative elements and support features (such as bookstores or visitor centers), resulting in loss of open space for the city. This current type of commemoration excludes uses that are vital to an urban park and public realm system such as flexible spaces for passive and active recreation. A temporary exhibit could integrate more seamlessly into an existing urban park system or even enhance the urban environment.
The Beyond Granite competition has been conceived to continue this conversation. The goal of the competition is to encourage more public dialogue about alternative ways to commemorate, and also to experiment with temporary forms of commemoration that can contribute to more vital public spaces within the nation's capital.