The Community Monument Visioning Kit: A Collective Activity For Participatory Commemoration Of Places That Matter

From colonialism to enslavement, monuments of the past celebrated values that are now universally condemned as reprehensible. There is broad consensus today that monuments need to champion diversity and their creation must be inclusive. There is also growing appreciation of the fact that monuments need not always be statues wrought in bronze or marble. The Community Monument Visioning Kit uniquely addresses the political zeitgeist by inviting everybody to imagine new monuments representing values worthy of celebration.

Comprising a deck of one hundred printed cards, the kit meets people where their frustration runs deepest and gives them something to do about it, providing a concrete way for communities to take positive action. Participants are challenged to figure out what values they want to honor, to give meaningful physical form to those values by moving their bodies, and to decide where those values most need to be celebrated by getting outside and shaking things up where they live. Challenging the elitism of traditional monuments that have been imposed upon communities by the powers that be, this kit is the first out-of-the-box antidote to the tens of thousands of statues erected to sway the masses or to speak on their behalf. 

Written in a language that is poetic yet accessible, the cards are instructive, engaging and participatory. In the popular tradition of worldbuilding games, each kit is designed to be used by a group of peers. In the suggested mode of play, people physically travel together to sites they collectively want to consider for commemoration. Where travel is not possible, the location can be conjured in the imagination. Either way, participants are challenged to temporarily become the monument they envision by acting out the thoughts and feelings they hope to convey. 

Enactment is guided by cards illustrating gestures that actors have been using to move audiences to laughter and tears since the age of Shakespeare. To maximize impact, group dynamics are informed by state-of-the art psychological research on effective communication of emotions and empathic connection.

Notably, the kit does not necessarily lead participants to erect a conventional physical monument. Rather it provokes people to consider the full gamut of commemorative practices. A monument can be a figure carved or cast to stand the test of time, but it can also take the form of a practice that activates meaningful memories about an important event. The kit is not only a challenge for every community to expand the commemorative landscape but also a prompt to extend their monumental imagination.

Working from the premise that civic virtue originates in the empathic connection between people living in vibrant communities, the kit actively builds empathy and connection through collective exercise of the civic imagination. The diversity of participants sharing their perspectives and acting out their ideals encourages fair and equitable representation of all. Each of us has the potential to be heroic. Every lived reality deserves commemoration. Every life is monumental.

The Community Monument Visioning Kit was conceived, written, and designed by Jonathon Keats while he was an artist-in-residence at the UC San Francisco’s Memory & Aging Center, and builds on his decades of practice as a writer, artist, and public philosopher. 

Publication Date: 2023

Author/Designer: Jonathon Keats

Publisher: Highlander Press

ISBN: 979-8-9879339-1-6

The Highland Institute
The Highland Institute
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