Native Americans in Capitol Art: An Opportunity for Change

One big reason Healing Minnesota Stories started this blog now was to communicate with people about an emerging and important debate about the art in the Minnesota State Capitol. Much of the Capitol art dates from the time of the building’s construction in the early 1900s, and it offers scant if any representation of our state’s increasingly diverse population. Further, some of the pieces misrepresent our history and put Native Americans in an offensive light.

This painting: Discoverers and the Civilizers led to the Source of the Mississippi is in the Minnesota Senate Chambers.
This painting: “Discoverers and the Civilizers led to the Source of the Mississippi,” is in the Minnesota Senate Chambers.

The bottom line is this. The Capitol is in the early stages of a $273 million renovation. (Details available at the Minnesota State Capitol Restoration Project website.) This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reassess the art and the story it tells about who we are as a people and what we value most. The Capitol Preservation Commission has created an Art Subcommittee to examine this issue and make recommendations. It already has had two initial meetings, but its work has only begun. We will use this site to keep you informed about the subcommittee’s work. Our goal is to encourage as many voices as possible to participate in this discussion, particularly voices from underrepresented communities.

We look forward to being one of the groups that helps keep you informed about the process and hearing your ideas. Here is what we know so far.

Art Subcommittee Membership

  • The Hon. Paul Anderson, Minnesota Supreme Court (ret.) Co-Chair
  • Sen. David Senjem, Co-Chair
  • Rep. Diane Loeffler, Co-Chair
  • Dana Badgerow, Better Business Bureau
  • Prof. William Green, Augsburg College
  • Peter Hilger, University of Minnesota
  • Ted Lentz, Ted Lentz & Associates, Cass Gilbert Society
  • Sen. Ann Rest
  • Anton Treuer, Executive Director, American Indian Resource Center, Bemidji State University
  • Rep. Dean Urdahl
  • Matthew Welch, Deputy Director, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
  • Prof. Gwen Westerman, Minnesota State University, Mankato

The Art Subcommittee’s Charge

The Subcommittee does not have an official charge yet. According to the Minnesota Department of Administration, here are some of the key areas it will consider:

  • Review and inventory the existing art, what is known about its history and purpose, and known concerns about its condition or other attributes.
  • Review the traditional use and placement of existing art and the possibilities for new locations for art.
  • Gather broad input into what stories should be told via art to visitors wishing to learn about Minnesota and its history, its people and its government.
  • Consider which stories are best told within the Capitol and which might be considered for the Capitol grounds or other locations.
  • Consider spaces for permanent, rotating and temporary art displays.
  • Explore and make recommendations on funding options.
  • Make recommendations on the above and other issues that may arise in the fact finding and deliberations process.
  • Prioritize its work schedule so that timely information is available when key decisions need to be made re: work within current construction efforts.
  • Consider what lighting, wall treatment, display environments and security issues need to be addressed in creating appropriate settings for art.
  • Consider the timing of key restoration activities to minimize costs and disruption.

Process for Decision-making

There is not a stated deadline for the Art Subcommittee to complete its work, but the goal is for the subcommittee to provide guidance that can be incorporated before the Capitol’s 2017 reopening. The subcommittee co-chairs will determine the process moving forward. The subcommittee will make it recommendations to the Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission.

Initial Meetings

Information on the agendas from the first two meetings of the Art Subcommittee are available on line at the Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission website, under the “Communications” tab. The second meeting included a presentation from the Minnesota State Demographic Center discussing how Minnesota’s population had changed since statehood. A Power Point presentation given at the meeting: “Minnesota Now, Then, When … An Overview of Demographic Change” is available online.

More Background on Public Art at the Capitol

If you want more background, MinnPost recently ran an excellent piece, titled: The other debate at the state Capitol: What to do with the building’s most controversial art? Healing Minnesota Stories has created a page on its website devoted to public art at the Capitol and other public spaces. We are available for presentation to faith communities and civic groups.

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