YOU DECIDE: Should Temporary Displays Be a Feature of the National Mall?

Posted by on Sep 11, 2023 in Stuff You Should Know, You Decide!

The National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C., is home to some of the most beloved American monuments. These include the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. About 35 million people visit the National Mall every year to view these permanent structures of granite and marble.  

In August 2023, six new temporary displays were added to the National Mall. These displays were created to commemorate the 60th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During this rally, King gave his historic “I Have a Dream Speech” in front of the Lincoln Memorial. 

The six temporary displays are part of Beyond Granite: Pulling Together, the Mall’s first official outdoor exhibit. Six artists from diverse backgrounds—including African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American—created the displays. Each artist’s creation focuses on an untold story that they thought was missing from the National Mall. For example, Crow Nation artist Wendy Red Star designed a red seven-foot glass fingerprint for her piece, The Soil You See…. The fingerprint lists the names of Crow leaders who signed land treaties with the U.S. government between 1825 and 1880. The names are listed like a pattern found on a fingerprint. Red Star used a fingerprint because many Native Americans signed treaties with their fingerprint rather than with their names. The monument is meant to remind viewers of the Native American experiences of belonging and displacement. 

Aerial view of Washington, D.C., looking west, with Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building in center
Aerial view of Washington, D.C.,

The displays on the Mall are large and colorful. Adults and children are expected to interact with them as they learn from them. However, the displays are not permanent: the exhibit runs from August 18 to September 18, 2023. After that, the installations will be removed from the National Mall. 


  • The amount of land available to build permanent displays on the National Mall is limited. A balance must exist so that stories can still be told while other activities can take place. Temporary displays can be planned for specific locations and for a certain amount of time to accommodate all the uses of the land.
  • Permanent memorials take years to build and require large amounts of money. These conditions make it difficult to make many diverse groups to be able to share their stories. In order to build a permanent memorial, groups or individuals must work with Congress. Private citizens often must fund the construction and maintenance of the memorial.
  • These temporary displays make it easier to show the diversity of Americans. These displays can change regularly to include new stories and events. They will keep the National Mall relevant for all Americans.


  • Temporary displays are not necessary. The National Mall already contains enough monuments and museums.
  • It is important that permanent memorials go through a complex process to ensure that a monument on the National Mall meets all the criteria.
  • Temporary displays do not give Americans enough time to be able to see and interact with the memorials. A month is hardly enough time for individuals to be able to interact with the temporary displays.

YOU DECIDE: Should temporary displays be a feature of the National Mall?