Reviewed October 2021
Alison Quirion, Associate Archivist, DZConnex/Sony Santa Monica Studio
PAST DUE: Report and Recommendations of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Civic Memory Working Group is the culmination of 18 months of discussions on how to think about existing and future civic memory projects. The 40-member group included historians, artists, architects, curators, designers, civic leaders, cultural leaders, and Indigenous elders and scholars. Their work is presented as a report with 18 key recommendations alongside supporting supplemental material. The website provides multiple ways to consume the final report with varying levels of user engagement. Originally designed and delivered as a printed publication, the full report can be viewed as a PDF in single page or spread format. For a quick takeaway, the key recommendations are accessible from the home page. A map option allows geographic exploration of notable events from the report, or, the user can take a non-linear tour of the report by browsing each piece of content, displayed in a visually appealing grid format.
For users interested in the role of public spaces in reinforcing or acknowledging social and racial injustices, PAST DUE complements sites such as Paper Monuments and Monument Lab. While those sites recap actions taken to address controversial monuments and build new, inclusive markers and memorials, PAST DUE focuses on the difficult questions and complexity leading up to taking action. Users, especially those belonging to the groups represented in the Civic Memory Working Group, will find valuable insights in the Roundtable Discussions and the Sub-Committee reports. The content of PAST DUE will also appeal to users interested in the history of the city of Los Angeles and the individuals whose contributions have been underrepresented or ignored.
The organization of the website encourages the user to browse and explore, but at the sacrifice of the narrative structure of the report PDF. The PDF leads readers through the discussions, interspersing the case studies, photos, and excerpts between each sub-committee report. The website is organized by content type, with no cues as to how each piece supports specific areas of discussion, placing the burden on users to make the connections. Consuming the content in the same order as the PDF is beneficial to creating deeper understanding. While site users will appreciate each piece on its own, they are missing out on how it impacts the larger discussion.
There are a few missed opportunities on the website. First is the limited search functionality. Expanding beyond the eight available filtering terms or including a keyword search option would allow for collating specific content. Linking important subject terms and references to other content would help to create a sense of story. The lack of language options is another missed opportunity. With the exception of the Spanish and English options on the Key Recommendations page, the content is only available in English. Considering the Working Group’s focus on highlighting the impact of white power structures in civic memory projects and the diversity of users interested in the content, the site could be more accessible and discoverable.
To fully appreciate the content of PAST DUE, I recommend users ought to first view the double-page PDF of the full report. Each piece of content makes more sense within the linear structure of the book versus the semi-unstructured website. In website form, PAST DUE is a complete representation of the Civic Memory Working Group Report, but with room for improvement and growth. Just as the report is a starting point for discussion and reflection, the website is also a starting point for engaging the community, as long as they can make their own sense out of it.