Monument Public Address System

Monument Public Address System is an augmented reality platform with which community members can respond to the racist history of confederate monuments in the United States. For communities surrounding these monuments, particularly monuments that cannot be removed, covered or altered (due to legal restrictions), a flexible and mobile public platform that allows both deliberate and spontaneous verbal and visual expression is needed. The unique qualities of AR provide the adaptability needed for such a situation. The social affordances of AR in relation to specific situations, particularly the properties that allow multiple participants to create, modify and annotate virtual assets, broaden our understanding of physical sites.

The project’s initial focus is the trouble surrounding the removal of the Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson Monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, a city located a two-hour drive from my current home in Blacksburg, VA, and five hours from my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. I mention these locations as a way to situate my personal interest in the racist history of the Southeast, interest originally sparked by family’s involvement in civil rights activism.

The Confederate statues in Charlottesville have been the site of painful conflicts and at least one wrongful death. In 2017, Heather Heyer was killed by a right-wing protestor who rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors. The counter-protestors had gathered in Charlottesville to support the Charlottesville City Council’s decision to remove the monuments. They were also present to raise voices of justice in contrast to the Unite-the-Right protestors. Despite the fact that the City Council voted twice in 2017 in favor of removing the monuments, Judge Richard Moore of the Charlottesville Circuit Court ruled in 2019 that the statues cannot be removed or concealed. Yet the decision may not last: the Virginia State Legislature will shift into Democratic control in 2020 and the state government plans to revisit the decision.

Monument Public Address System is intended to support the removal of Confederate monuments but also to provide an avenue for public healing, one of many that are needed. The project will be a tool for visual and aural expressions of anger, frustration, sadness and fear regarding our country’s racist history. It will also serve as a platform for the enunciation of anti-racist hopes, activities and initiatives.

While this new initiative is still in an early stage, I have successfully produced isomorphic AR public art projects focused on site-specific concerns An example, please see my collaboratively produced Oyster City AR project: http://meredithdrum.com/work/oyster-city. I have also co-produced community-based art projects that involved substantial amounts of direct and honest work with the community of focus. Please see Fish Stories Community Cookbook: http://meredithdrum.com/work/fish-stories-community-cookbook.

   Regarding my current process, I am reaching out to Charlottesville City Council members, the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP, the Charlottesville and Richmond local branches of the national organization Coming to the Table, professors at both the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech whose research relates to race and public policy and other experts and stakeholders in the region. I am looking for community members to co-design the augmented assets and the interactive experience. And I am working with a graduate student at Virginia Tech, where I am an assistant professor of Creative Technologies, on the technology to run the piece.

   One of my primary design challenges is the construction of a clear and enjoyable user experience – one that will inspire and assist participants in the creation and broadcast of their own creative responses to the monuments as part of anti-racist community growth.