The debate over art in the State Capitol is getting more media traction and one of main arguments used by advocates of the status quo is that moving the art amounts to censorship.
Censorship is an emotionally triggering word, and it gets the juices flowing, but this is not censorship.
The latest media coverage comes from a Dec. 1 John Tevlin column in the StarTribune headlined: With Capitol under renovation, debate begins on which art is appropriate when it reopens. The column opens putting the spotlight on the Anton Gag painting, “The Attack on New Ulm,” part of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.
The column starts with a conversation with George Glotzbach, former member of the board of the Brown County Historical Society. Both he and his wife, Sharon, “had ancestors who were ‘inside the barricades’ during the battle with Dakota Indians in 1862 and nearly killed.” Sharon is president of the Wanda Gag House Association (daughter of Anton). Here’s what George had to say:
“I have an agenda on this just like the Indians have an agenda,” said Glotzbach. “This thing hit us like a ton of bricks when we found out that the ‘Attack on New Ulm’s painting was on the hit list. I see this as nothing more and nothing less than censorship … ”
This is not censorship. Those of us pushing to remove some of the art from the Capitol want it in a museum where it can get better interpretation and discussion. The fact is, conversations about the meaning of the art and Minnesota history rarely if ever happen in the Capitol. People are too busy with other agendas. These issues need much more dialogue.
Here are today’s letters to the editor about Tevlin’s column, including one I wrote trying to make the “this-is-not-censorship” point.
This Day in History: Teddy Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Aims at Breaking Up Tribes
On December 3, 1901, Teddy Roosevelt gave his first inaugural speech to Congress. It makes reference to the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, which authorized the government to survey community-owned tribal lands and divide it up for individual ownership.
Here is part of Roosevelt’s speech:
In my judgment the time has arrived when, we should definitely make up our minds to recognize the Indian as an individual and not as a member of a tribe. The General Allotment Act is a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass. It acts directly upon the family and the individual. Under its provisions some sixty thousand Indians have already become citizens of the United States. We should now break up the tribal funds, doing for them what allotment does for the tribal lands ; that is, they should be divided into individual holdings. … The effort should be steadily to make the Indian work like any other man on his own ground.