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Monument Public Address System

Design Prototype Monument Public Address System

Issues of race, memorialization and the public memory of slavery and racial  oppression are especially lively, especially important right now. A series of tragic murders of Black  Americans over the last ten years have sparked the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and have  led to an international reckoning with histories and symbols of racism and slavery. Protestors,  journalists, academics, students, politicians and many others have debated the relationship between  systemic violence and discrimination against black people and symbols of the Confederacy for  many decades – now these debates have come to a boil.  

To briefly recount one of several chains of events: in Charlestown, SC in 2015 nine Black Americans were murdered during a bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal  Church. A photo of the killer, Dylann Roof, holding a confederate flag raised the volume on calls to  eliminate Confederate symbols on public property. South Carolina removed the Confederate flag  from state grounds. And plans were initiated by cities and states to take down monuments, including  the Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA. A back lash formed and manifestation in the 2017 Unite the  Right rally in Charlottesville which resulted in the killing of counter-protester Heather Heyer. The  subsequent murder of George Floyd by a police officer in 2020 ignited further BLM protests during  which crowds toppled confederate monuments across the country.  

A 2020 Quinnipiac poll shows a significant increase of support for the removal of  Confederate statues from public places (19% since 2017).1 Yet the debates continue; some are  divisive while others are constructive. Many municipalities struggle to make decisions about what  to do with their monuments. Towns and cities have stated that they are too financially challenged to  remove the monuments or to provide contextualization.2 These debates, and the potential for digital  art and digital humanities to support democratic and balanced discussions, have galvanized our  work on this proposed project - Monument Public Address System.

Monument Public Address System addresses public monuments as shapers of our  culture, values, and beliefs, and ultimately shapers of our social and political behavior. Our team  aims to support democratic processes in cities, towns, and neighborhoods regarding the future of the 

Confederate monuments. We recognize the need for contextualization of existing monuments as  well as sites where monuments have been removed. Our goal is to enrich encounters of these  locations by providing thoughtful and truth-centered narratives about the memorialization of slavery  and the Confederate War with an easy-to-use, mobile augmented reality environment. 

The accessibility of the mobile Augmented Reality (AR) platform that we are using is  essential to the success of our project. With the web-based XR program 8th Wall,3 participants  simply load a website on their mobile device to experience the augmentations. Our team will create  printed materials featuring QR codes and distribute the materials to our potential participants. When  scanned with the camera of a mobile device, the QR code will open 8th Wall in the mobile browser and launch our AR experience. Unlike most AR platforms, users do not have to download a separate application. As many users do not like downloading apps or lack of available space on their  devices, 8th Wall has the potential to reach a larger audience. Furthermore, the platform is less  exclusive in that it functions well on older smart phones and tablets. 

Our democratically-themed project is nicely complimented by the accessibility of the 8th Wall technology. Since the platform is free for users and can be accessed with a mobile device  anywhere, it can be added to monuments everywhere, even within municipalities that express their  inability to remove, alter or amend their monuments due to financial, social, cultural or political  constraints.  

Our UX design encourages participant to explore Confederate monuments, and the spaces  around them, as they interact with the virtual visual materials that we are building and listen to  segments of the narrative histories that we are collecting. In mid 2020, Meredith Drum began  interviewing, recording, and editing these narrative histories. The interviewees are community  organizers, students, professors, artists, writers and activists. Drum is now reaching out to  politicians, city planners, architects, city council members and a multitude of other citizens to  include their voices. The audio narratives reveal the struggles, triumphs and everyday experiences  that these individuals have experienced in relation to race, representation, prejudice, justice, and  truth, with a particular focus on the memorialization of the Confederacy. 

All of the audio narratives are being archived as part of a web project that Meaghan Dee and  Meredith Drum are designing. The audio will be available for anyone to download and to use under  a Creative Commons license. Drum has constructed an in-progress version of the online archive in  the form of a VR space featuring 360-degree sound of the oral narratives.

To enhance the community-building aspect of this initiative, Drum will offer free workshops  to people who live in the municipalities where Monument Public Address System is presented.  Workshop participants will create a simple AR project using Java Script within the 8th Wall  platform; they will also to learn how to prepare aural and visual assets for the platform, including  modeling, texturing and exporting virtual 3D objects. Drum has already scheduled such an AR  workshop for February 2021 with an arts organization, Stove Works, in Chattanooga, TN that is  hosting Monument Public Address System as part of a larger exhibition.