New York City’s Central Park has no statues of real women. That is, the three statues of women that are scattered throughout the park represent fictional characters — Juliet from “Romeo and Juliet,” Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” and Mother Goose.
“What a blatant example of women not getting the recognition they deserve,” says Shelley Diamond, chief client officer at Y&R, a global communications firm. “At any point in time there is more to the story than a soldier sitting atop a horse.”
With a new app dubbed The Whole Story, Y&R is trying to do just that — share a more comprehensive history by joining technology and public spaces. The app enables users to see, share and add virtual statues alongside existing public statues. Using augmented reality and GPS capabilities, users can locate and view statues on a map as well as learn about the person’s contributions.
“Girls can’t be what they can’t see,” Diamond says. “We had sort of an a-ha moment,” she adds, noting that the team was inspired while taking a walk through Central Park, which borders their office, one afternoon.
“We don’t want to wait for statues to be built, so we took it into our hands,” says Diamond.
The high-cost of building physical statues is one of the reasons the company chose to use augmented reality, says Catherine Patterson, director of innovation at Y&R.
“We looked very carefully at how we can create an open-source platform to build a utility that allows different groups of women to augment their own histories in a real world setting,” she says.
While the app so far has mainly focused on New York City, with 23 virtual statues in the city and another 13 throughout the world, the hope is that eventually more people will create and submit their own statues, opening up the app to every corner of the world.
Statues so far include Nina Simone, Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Althea Gibson and Maria Tallchief, to name a few. Head to Mt. Rushmore and you can see a new version donning the faces of Susan B. Anthony, Florence Nightingale, Harriet Tubman and Sacagawea.
The group wants to begin working with open-source submissions from throughout the United States later this year, and global submissions in 2018.
To Patterson, it’s the most exciting aspect of the tool.
“There are many, many untold stories of women throughout the world,” she says. “What’s really meaningful about this tool is that it gives people the chance to tell their own stories.”
Each submitted statue will go through a careful moderation and curation process, she adds.
Y&R teamed up with a local New York City Girl Scout troop and the United Nations to launch the app. The initiative is part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls.
Girl Scout Troop 3484 of New York City’s Upper East Side was already making headlines when Y&R first heard about them. According to troop leader Bridget Small, the girls were on a field trip when they learned that no statues of women existed in Central Park.
They were outraged.
Soon, they started protesting in the famed park, holding up signs with slogans like “Bring women out of the dark and into the park,” and “Let’s make herstory.”
For troop leader Gina Sohn, seeing the girls leap into action was a wake-up call.
“We all lived with it silently and didn’t notice,” she says. “[Central Park] is the crown jewel of our city.”
The girls started working with The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund to help raise awareness around the lack of statues featuring prominent women, and eventually joined Y&R’s efforts. They spent time with the developers of the app and helped create promotional material around the launch.
“For the girls in our troop, it was great to see this entirely women-led team developing and promoting this app,” says Sohn. As they learned about the women being featured in the app “it stoked their indignation,” she adds.
“We hope this experience shows them they have the power to stand up for what they believe is right,” Sohn says. “And that they have the right to see themselves represented.”