Though it’s not on the syllabus, everyone should borrow and read Funeral for a Home. It beautifully chronicles a compassionate, impactful, and incredibly well researched public humanities project that I think we can all learn a lot from. Plus, the book itself is a precious little thing full of memorabilia from the project (pieces of wall paper, pressed flowers, newspaper clippings, etc.). It’s exhilarating to explore but sadly, this scrapbook-like quality inevitably limits the number of copies available, making it difficult to acquire. If you’re going to read it, which you should, borrow it this semester.
As a quick preview, Funeral for a Home is a project that co-opts the scheduled demolition of a 146-year-old row house in Mantua. By throwing the house a funeral—complete with a eulogy, gospel choir, garlands, and a dump truck painted like a coffin—Temple Contemporary Tyler School of Art was able to make an artwork that impacted an entire neighborhood and expose a marginalized history of housing that mirrors dying neighborhoods around the country. In their words, the Mantua row house “becomes every house,” creating a nationally pressing conversation out of a cathartic, community-building experience.
As many of you know, I’m all about whimsy and organic, communal forms of understanding (like mourning or celebration). As a result, I place a lot of value on examples of public humanities projects that break free from the institutional context that can often read as sterile, objective, boring, or not part of in “real life.” Funeral for a Home is one of the best examples I have seen in that it’s simultaneously whimsical, informative, and a call to action. This kind of practice should be on all of our radars.