Memorials for the Future Competition
for The National Park Service (NPS) and the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC)
with the Van Alen Institute


Cultur-altar is a memorial for sacrifice; and a sacrifice of gifts to an altar for humanity.

The Cultur-altar will function as a meeting place for public events, such as public speeches and concerts. Visitors are asked to bring images, letters, and other items of personal significance, regarding the memorialized person, issue, or narrative, to the celebration and cast them into the altar as a gift to humanity. Papier-mâché messages, posters, and letters are encouraged to be affixed to the altar so that future memorials can see the traces of past sacrifices. At the end of the memorial proceedings, and before moving on, the items sacrificed on the altar will be burned; afterward, the ashes will be smeared at the place of the altar in remembrance.

The homogenization of culture in modern America paradoxically emboldens American identity and appropriates that sacrificed from many cultures. What we need for a memorial of the future is a symbol that can promote the celebration of distinctive cultures while satisfying common goals. We need a memorial to celebrate sacrifice, and give thanks, for the varied, rich facets of American culture. Sacrificial altars appear in a wide variety of cultures and histories all over the world as symbols for giving thanks, in the forms of gifts or life, to the eternal source of all life. For instance, the Native Americans of the Lakota tribe use altars for sacrificing bounties from Mother Earth to renew creation. Alternatively, traditional monuments, permanently cast figures of stone and bronze, symbolize a singular vision of power and wealth (which opposes sacrifice) and either simplifies or hides the sacrifices made for its establishment. A sacrificial memorial is a symbol of loss, to the powers that be, for the hopes of future growth.

We will setup the Cultur-altar in Eastern Market Park as a memorial for Prince Rogers Nelson, formerly known as Prince. We propose to have the altar setup as soon as his passing was announced, and leave it up for an entire week to allow for fans and supporters to leave notes and gifts of remembrance. These symbolize the sacrifices that Prince made to mark the world; as well as the loss many of us feel with his passing. Towards the end of the memorial, we propose to hold a series of impromptu tribute concerts and celebration. In the final night of the memorial we will have a ceremonial burning of the sacrificed items, and as a community, we will work together to spread the ash on the ground in the form of Prince’s iconic, namesake symbol. We hope that as people see the mark in the coming weeks and months more will remember him and what he gave the world.