Posts tagged with "Alabama":

Placeholder Alt Text

Absence is made tangible at the new national memorial to lynching victims

Absence is not abstract. It is felt and perceived. Absence implicates all of us inasmuch as it confounds the very writing of our stories. To see absence is to have our limits revealed, not as if in a mirror, but in a manner that shows that we are entangled with distant tethers that keep our bodies, our histories, in check. Absence, when made visible, is not observed immediately. It takes time. The April 26 opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, is perhaps one such catalyst for the effacement of the visitor with respect to the racial terror that led to the loss of thousands of lives through lynching. Lynching victims who were burned alive, hanged, shot—murdered—in and along the towns and byways of our nation from 1877 until 1950, are documented in this memorial initiated by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Such violence continues today in the form of excessive imprisonment; by the murders of black women and men by the police; by the enforcement of state-sanctioned economic violence. By crafting spaces in which the subtractive is both a tool and a frame, the design of this memorial signals the recuperative agency of building as a means to affect the erasable and irascible conditions that established and purvey hatred, fear, and ignorance in this country. Here, looking away is not conscionable, as it moves against the habitus of memory, where our own individual pasts intersect with the Past. That the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum are realized in this, the 50th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, is indeed an extraordinary feat indebted to the efforts of many individuals that came before. However, I would be remiss in not reminding readers that in recent reportage, including The New York Times and Rolling Stone, there is scant mention of the architects. During the spectacle of the opening ceremony, EJI’s Executive Director, Bryan Stevenson, acknowledged builders, contractors, laborers, and “local” architects—but did not name the project architects, MASS Design Group. Only on the EJI website can we find mention that the Initiative had the “assistance” of MASS Design Group. It feels purposeful, and we are thus left to speculate. I am left wondering: Are architects supposed to fade away in the fashioning of a memorial? I can think of recent examples for which this is clearly not the case. What has been wrought in other locations, including Washington, D.C., Berlin, Johannesburg, New York City, and Birmingham, all speak through their authors. And, in varying degrees, formal aspects of each of these memorial spaces are present now in Montgomery. Memorials render ghosts. And Boston-based MASS Design’s work with the EJI on the design and building of this structure is no less haunted by the iniquities of American history. With distant views of limpid hills and a semiformal state capitol town center with its empty shops, deserted lots, 59 Confederate markers, and recent loft conversions, the Memorial for Peace and Justice is adjacent, without irony, to the storefront of the State of Alabama Office of Pardons and Paroles Day Reporting Center. From the street below, the memorial structure is partially indiscernible due to its horizontal profile cutting across the sightline, but it may also be read as an empty pedestal through and on which the lives of so many passed, passed away, disappeared. One climbs farther up the hill alongside a boundary wall upon which a series of chronological narratives is posted to convey the story of “Why here?” and “Why now?” The manifestations of slavery, of incipient racism that persist today, are described as a backdrop to an unfolding of both landscape and architecture as marked sites for unceasing brutality. We are soon confronted by a bronze sculpture of humans in chains by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo. The signs begin too high to be read easily and meet our eyes as we climb the hill. A sharp corner, and one rises again to the structure while unfortunately overlooking the conclusion of the memorial space one floor below. There is no fixed entrance, per se, except a momentary pause with a large fire extinguisher. Stepping onto a timber floor, one is immediately surrounded by a dense array of body-size steel casks hung from pipes that disappear into a paneled metal ceiling. One moves cautiously through a grid of “bleeding” Corten steel containers, each incised with the name of the county and names accompanied by dates, including those unknown, of the lynched. The floor gradually descends as the casks remain above our heads; their intact volumes remain whole. By moving downward, one returns into the ground. The horizon has been excised. Gravity is idle. A series of narratives printed on thin metal strips is hung in a similar manner to the initial chronologies, describing in the briefest of ways the events of individual lynchings. The blunt quotidian language, their facticity, arrests our movements. At the next corner, one is presented with two very large indictments. A cascade of water pushes across the adjacent wall, merging with, not obscuring, an extended text. The temperature changes. Two choices are apparent: Climb a ramp or stair into the center of the quadrangle or leave. The empty center, while perhaps disguised as a space of confrontation, is more like a cloister in which condemnation is subdued, internalized; here it is possible to see across through the casks while observing others. It is not a sanctum. Greeting one’s unceremonial departure from the memorial upon moving outside, another sliver of text is located across from the pipes and pumps of the interior waterfall. This is not as much a “door of no return,” as merely a way out. This non-exit merges with an unmarked landscape of horizontal metal casks, akin to those held inside the structure—a topology of loss. Despite being worrisome for those who might wish to touch one of the steel containers after a hot day, one walks between their seemingly geographic order(s) locating states and counties, and names. Farther on, a series of bronzes by Dana King, depicting Rosa Parks and her heroic companions leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, intersects the path. A small circular garden of mushroom-like concrete stools is sited nearby and is unlike anything seen elsewhere, with no explanation as to its role. One moves across on pathways above, around, and below another bronze, this one by Hank Willis Thomas, spelling bodies of containment, of stability falling away. With the building of such thresholds for historical reckoning, the arc of our knowing also asserts unknowing; absence lingers. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum attest to our own entanglements with reconciliation and truth. Memorials, like museums, are structures that attempt to keep us in their grasp as long as possible, allowing for the disclosure of our interior selves with multiple worlds. Such “new worlds” are partially uncovered at the intersection of reflection and remembrance, yet allow for and point to the rupture of what our passages have been and continue to be.
Placeholder Alt Text

America’s first memorial to victims of lynching opens in Montgomery

On April 26, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the first memorial in the U.S. dedicated to African American victims of lynching and continued discrimination, will open to the public in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial, designed by Boston-based MASS Design Group, will open in tandem alongside The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, also located in Montgomery, which will chart the history of African American segregation from slavery to the present day. Both projects stem from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit group that works to right racial injustices, advocates for those in racially or economically segregated communities, and provides legal representation for the illegally arrested or abused. The memorial itself, located in the middle of six acres of hilltop in Montgomery, is a square-shaped, open-air pavilion dedicated to the more than 4,400 victims of lynching in America. Their names are inscribed across over 800 six-foot-tall, rectangular columns wrapped in Corten steel and hung from the ceiling of the memorial. Each of the columns represents a county where the lynchings listed took place, and replicas of each are located outside of the pavilion for their respective counties to come and claim; the columns left behind are meant to be a public reminder of which county has failed to engage with the memorial. Visitors just outside of the pavilion’s entrance will be confronted by a sculpture from Ghanian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo of a mother in chains, crying out while cradling a baby under her arm. A sculpture by Dana King dedicated to the women who kept the Montgomery Bus Boycott alive will also be located near the “town square” memorial. “Our nation’s history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape,” said EJI Director Bryan Stevenson. “This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice.” The Legacy Museum is only a 15-minute walk from the memorial, and the two-story, 11,000-square-foot brick building sits on a site that had historically been used to warehouse slaves. Inside, the museum will use videos, photography, and research materials to introduce visitors to first-hand accounts of the domestic slave trade. From there, sculptures from Titus Kaphar and Sanford Biggers, among other mixed-media works and photographs, will paint a portrait of life under enforced segregation in the Jim Crow South. Through a range of mediums including animation and paintings, the museum hopes to create a full timeline of racial segregation in America. According to the EJI, design and artistic partners for the museum also include Local Projects, Tim Lewis and TALA, Molly Crabapple, Orchid Création, Stink Studios, Human Pictures, HBO, and Google. The April 26 opening ceremony will be followed by several days of panels, presentations, and concerts at the museum.
Placeholder Alt Text

Design for Memorial to Peace and Justice unveiled

In Montgomery, Alabama, a new museum and a memorial to victims of lynching—one of the first and the largest in the nation—are set to open in 2017. The Memorial to Peace and Justice, founded by the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and designed in partnership with MASS Design Group, is reminiscent of a gallows, with hundreds of hanging stone slabs inscribed with the names of lynching victims. The EJI released a report last year documenting over 4,000 victims of lynchings between 1877 and 1950 and purchased six acres of hilltop land in Montgomery for the memorial.

Accompanying the memorial will be a museum, “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration,” that will draw a parallel between slavery and our present-day criminal justice system. Set on the site of a warehouse where slaves were held before being sent to the market, the museum will focus on remembering the history of slavery as well as highlighting contemporary issues related to racial inequality, such as police brutality and wrongful convictions, through interactive displays, and archival footage, photographs, and documents.

Placeholder Alt Text

National Endowment for the Arts awards nearly $75 million in grants across all 50 states

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) on Wednesday announced the latest round of its Art Works and State and Regional Partnerships programs, funding a symphony in Alabama, StoryCorps in Brooklyn, and more than 1,000 different projects across the country. NEA said it will make 1,023 awards totaling $74,326,900 to nonprofit arts organizations in all 50 states—plus the U.S. jurisdictions of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the District of Columbia—by the end of their fiscal year in September. Here's the full list of 1,023 awardees by city and state. The recipients run the gamut from established museums—Tucson Museum of Art will get $15,000 to support an exhibition exploring the art of the American West in popular and mass media, for example—to smaller arts councils and community initiatives. Civic programs are also among the winners. Public Schools systems in Boston, Seattle, and Nashville will receive grants of roughly $100,000 each to expand arts education. Collectively 263 panelists reviewed 1,794 applications for funding, according to an NEA press release. This week's announcement brings NEA funding awarded to date in fiscal year 2015 to $103.47 million.
Placeholder Alt Text

The next generation of bike share programs is taking shape in Birmingham, Alabama

A biking first for the Western Hemisphere is about to hit the streets in Birmingham, Alabama. While the American south is better known for its legacy of car-first sprawl, Birmingham city leaders hope a new bike share program will get residents and visitors to pedal their way on two wheels for short trips in the city's core—and they're getting an "assist" from a new prototype in Canada. Traditional bike share programs include tougher-than-usual bikes able to handle the abuse of the general public. According to a report in AL.com, Birmingham's bikes will feature built-in electric-assist technology that uses small motors to help the weary pedaler make it up steep terrain. But Birmingham officials have been touting the city's flat topography among the selling points for the system, so the "assist" could end up replacing the footwork outright. The electric-assist bikes "were included to lessen barriers to using the system for people not as experienced with hillier areas of the city," the website reported. Whether or not the new system is used for its health benefits or simply falls back on its ability to reduce congestion, improve air quality, and provide a transportation alternative to city residents, Birmingham plans to launch 400 bikes and 40 kiosks across the city's core this fall—a good size system for a city of 212,000 people and a region of 1.14 million. The plan calls for 100 of those bikes to be electric assist. Birmingham chose Quebec, Canada–based Bewegen Technologies on Monday to supply the bikes and kiosks after a number of companies submitted proposals in January. The city's economic development agency, REV Birmingham, will administer the program. Funds come, in part, from a $2 million federal CMAQ grant aimed at mitigating congestion and improving air quality. The city is chipping in another $400,000. Operating costs are expected to come from member payments and corporate sponsorships. Bewegen—named after the Dutch and German word for "to move"—launched their prototype electric bike at a conference in Pittsburgh last September and plans pilot projects in Quebec and Portugal later this year. The company's CEO, Alain Ayotte, was one of the founders of Montreal's Bixi bike share, and served as President and CEO of Public Bike System Company (PBSC) which has supplied major systems in New York City, Chicago, and Washington, DC. PBSC went through a drawn out bankruptcy in 2014, about a year after Ayotte left the company. In an interview with the Bike Share Blog, Ayotte discussed his vision for the future of electrified bike share:
Conventional bike-sharing was a good start, but has many limitations. The modal share numbers speak for themselves. They limit the impact that bike-sharing can have on the urban transportation mix of a city. This also limits the pool of riders and the types of use they can get out every trip. I believe that shared pedelec (electric-assist) vehicles are truly the missing link in urban mobility and will soon become the norm.
The system's pricing structure is still being worked out, but it will include annual memberships and credit card options for short term rentals. The city is crowdsourcing the kiosk locations and plans to launch a website and smartphone app later this summer. Decals will be placed at proposed kiosk locations and citizens can text their thoughts about each one to system organizers. While this system is novel for its use of electric-powered bikes, bike share is not new in the south. Cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Louisville, and Chattanooga have launched, or are planning, systems of their own. The nation's first bike share program began in Washington, D.C., in 2010 and dozens more programs have popped up in cities large and small across the country.