Monument Lab installations debut throughout the city

Art Etchells of Phila and his golden retriever Gibbs get a visit from Alfie of Linwood, NJ on the salvaged steps titled, “On the Threshold” by artist Kaitlin Pomerantz installed at Washington Square Park in Philadelphia. Alfie was in Washington Square Park with owner Jon Fox.

Peter Bartscherer was sitting on a stoop in Washington Square on Saturday afternoon, as if he were in front of any of thousands of rowhouses in Philadelphia.

But this stoop was a sculpture in Washington Square Park, on the first official day of the Monument Lab project, which runs through Nov. 19 in squares and parks across the city.

Bartscherer, calling himself the type of person who tends “to read every plaque,” is intrigued by Philadelphia history and how neighborhoods define the city. So he liked how the installations “sort of capture the sense of neighborhood,” Bartscherer said. Mindy Bartscherer, his wife, said that since they live in an apartment building, “this is our stoop right now.”

Made of marble, brick, and concrete from demolished Philadelphia buildings, On the Threshold (Salvaged Stoops, Philadelphia) is staggered along the square’s east side. It seemed to be pretty popular with those in the park.

Organized by Mural Arts Philadelphia, the Monument Lab project asked 20 artists to create monuments appropriate for Philadelphia in the 21st century. It’s all taking place amid debate nationally and in the city over the role of sculptures in public space. People can propose their own monuments at “labs” near the prototypes.

Also sitting on a stoop was Philadelphia-based artist Kaitlin Pomerantz, who designed On the Threshold and watched what people did around her artwork.

“One guy came up and said, ‘I feel like I’m home,’ ” said Pomerantz, 31. “It’s amazing to see how easy it is for people to engage with them. Everybody knows what to do with a stoop.”

Pomerantz, whose project encompasses 12 stoops in all, said they “speak of something greater, how people occupy space and exist as neighbors.”

Some in the park were unaware of that concept. “That I did not get,” said Gordon Pessano, sitting on one Saturday. Because On the Threshold is replacing benches on the square’s east side, he thought the aim might have been to deter homeless people from sleeping there.

“Not that I think that’s positive,” he said. “But I do like them.” Noting the craftsmanship, Pessano was “pleased they incorporated the red brick — red brick is Philadelphia.”

Up in Franklin Square, another Monument Lab installation let users get creative.

Camera icon ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Zahir Murray, 2, and his brother Symiir Hamilton, 13, of Philadelphia experiment with Philly sounds inside the Sample Philly display that is part of the Monument Lab project at Franklin Square in Phila. on September 16, 2017.

“Let’s go play with the music!” exclaimed Anahi Hernandez, running with several other children into the Sample Philly booth.

Designed by Kara Crombie, Sample Philly is a mixing studio with samples of Philadelphia songs and local music. Users can select samples and mix them with an array of buttons.

Hernandez, 9, said the sculpture was “really fun. You can make the volume high and change different features.”

Her neighbor and friend Ernne Juncal, 11, liked that “you can change the tuning. You can learn about the different music.”

As they left, Pete Magliocco wheeled a stroller in. “Hear that? What song is that?” he said to his 8-month-old son, Leo.

Magliocco deemed the addition to the park “awesome. I just heard the old-school 76ers song.” It likely won’t be his last interaction with it: “We’ll probably be back tomorrow, if it’s nice.”