Creating Criteria for New Art in the Minnesota State Capitol

A piece of local art in the New Mexico State Capitol. How creative will Minnesota be?
A painting of the ristra, a symbol of New Mexico, is one of many pieces by local artists hanging in the New Mexico State Capitol. How creative will Minnesota be?

The debate over art in the Minnesota State Capitol is shifting from a review of the old art to a discussion of what new art and new stories should be added. An important part of that discussion will be how to better include images of women and people of color amid the current art collection that has a near-exclusive emphasis on white men.

Other states have led the way in adding new Capitol art. For instance, the Alaska, Georgia and other states have dedicated Capitol space for student art. In New Mexico, they created an Art Foundation to select a wide array of new artwork done by New Mexican artists to display in their Capitol.

At the Minnesota Art Subcommittee’s May 5 meeting, Tri-Chair Rep. Diane Loeffler presented some initial guidelines to consider for adding new art. Also, the Subcommittee discussed the challenges and capacity to add rotating art exhibits.

These issues and others will be hashed out in the Art Subcommittee’s final two meetings — tentatively Friday June 3 and Friday June 17 — before it issues its final report in late June.

Everyone now faces a big time crunch. Much of the Capitol is scheduled to reopen for business in early 2017 for the start of the next full legislative session. That is a mere eight months away. The Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission asked the Art Subcommittee to move up the deadline on its final report so recommendations can be implemented in time for the reopening. (The formal grand reopening won’t happen until the project is done in the fall of 2017.)

At the March 5 Art Subcommittee meeting, members were discussing the minutia of the size and location of basement wall sconces and how they would fit with new art. They still didn’t have a sense of how many spaces existed for new art in the main Capitol corridors. Once those questions get sorted out, it will take time to evaluate and select new art.

There is a chance (probably a really good chance) that much of the area designated for new art could be bare come January. Further, the hoped-for improvements in the historical interpretation of existing art may  not be in place due to lack of funds.

Criteria for New Art

Loeffler handed out initial recommendations on new art criteria, and asked Subcommittee members for feedback by the next meeting. As of this writing, the Art Subcommittee had not posted them on its website. Some of the criteria include:

  • Whenever appropriate to the story being told, new art shall reflect the involvement of women, persons of color, and other Minnesotans underrepresented in the current collection. For the people to feel part of their government and its history, we heard in the public hearings that seeing themselves in the art is a way of welcome and inspiring engagement.
  • The specifics of the story to be told must guide the artist and historical accuracy shall be sought as much as possible if it is conveying a historical event.
  • No art in the Capitol may promote a specific business or name brand products in the marketplace.

The state also has a process in place to vet new art through the State Arts Board. Executive Director Sue Gens will explain the process at a future meeting. The Subcommittee also discussed bringing performing arts into the Capitol, such as small recitals or a Readers Theater on a Sunday afternoon.

The Challenge of Adding Temporary Art Exhibits

While members of the Art Subcommittee have agreed that having temporary and rotating art exhibits would be desirable, staff from the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) made a presentation about the costs and complications of bringing them in.

(This is an issue near and dear to the heart of Healing Minnesota Stories, as we have been working with several schools on a project to have students create alternative Capitol art. We would love to see student art in the Capitol. Click here for more.)

Here are the upcoming challenges. First, someone would need to be in charge of organizing temporary exhibits, including developing themes, curating the exhibit with narratives, and installing the art. Then there are costs associated with transporting art, security, and insurance.

A draft proposal from MHS recommended identifying two to three spaces for inaugural exhibits and revisiting the feasibility of additional spaces at a later date. Loeffler has recommended that the priority for rotating or temporary art exhibits should be given to the new public space on the third floor.

This and other recommendations will be discussed at the June meetings.

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