Student Art in the Minnesota Capitol? Idea Moving Forward, Thanks to Saint Paul Public Schools and MNHS

Thanks to Saint Paul Public School’s (SPPS), initial conversations are happening with the Minnesota Historical Society to get student art in the Capitol, according to Sherry Kempf, who works in the district’s Multicultural Resource Center (MRC). The MRC staff has been a wonderful partner in promoting the Healing Minnesota Stories Capitol Art project, which teaches students about the historic art in the Minnesota Capitol and challenges them to create their own contemporary Capitol art.

Several SPPS schools have participated in the project. The MRC now displays some 70+ pieces of student art, and more classrooms are in process. (Check out the MRC’s gallery, located in the Washington Technology Magnet School.)

Here is a short video the district created about the project, with footage from an art opening.

As you might recall, the state is now wrapping up a major Capitol renovation. Part of that project included a prolonged debate about controversial Capitol art and its images of Manifest Destiny. The historic art includes inaccurate and offensive depictions of Native Americans and a very slanted version of early Minnesota history.

Unfortunately, little progress was made in moving some of the most problematic art to a museum. The one big step forward was a decision to move two controversial paintings out of the high-profile Governor’s Conference Room into a less prominent Capitol space. (Moved were paintings of Father Hennepin “discovering” the falls at St. Anthony and a painting of the signing of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux. But they still are in the Capitol.)

The Capitol’s historic art focuses almost exclusively on the stories of white men. Discussions between SPPS and the Minnesota Historical Society could mean more good news — that art by students from diverse backgrounds could be hung in the Capitol in new display spaces created by the renovation. All people should know they have a place at the Capitol.

Healing Minnesota Stories is grateful for the work and support of the MRC, both Kempf and Alyse Burnside. But this also is a good time to recognize the many people who made this project possible.

  • Ken Ford got it all started when he researched the Capitol art and developed a presentation for classrooms and religious communities.
  • Healing Minnesota Stories Native leaders Jim Bear Jacobs and Bob Klanderud added much to our understanding of the impact this art has and continue to give presentations.
  • Art teacher Rachel Latuff Betterley approached Healing Minnesota Stories with a strong desire to help. She designed a lesson plan for her class and did the project with her students at North View Junior High in Brooklyn Center. She then moved to Northwoods Community School in Cook and repeated the project with her high school students.
  • Art Educators Minnesota let us present at its annual conference to increase the project’s exposure.
  • Other teachers followed, including Belle Janicek of Oshki Ogimaag Charter School in Grand Portage, Jason Bresette at the American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul, Kong Cheng Kinnander from the Center School in Minneapolis, and Pamela Holland Mills, Fine Arts Coordinator for Anishinabe Academy in Minneapolis.
  • Then there were the many students who generously donated or loaned their art to us to be a part of Healing Minnesota Stories traveling art exhibit.
  • The Saint Paul Foundation supported this project with a generous grant. (Thank you, too, Rowzat Shipchandler!)
  • There have been many venues that have embraced the traveling art exhibit, notably a collaboration we had with Catherine (Maggie) Thompson at Two Rivers Gallery and Taylor Payor at All My Relations Gallery. This project let student art be displayed in conjunction with professional artists responding to the Minnesota Capitol art.
  • Scott Russell (that’s me) has worked to promote the project and driven the art from venue to venue to help raise awareness of this important issue.

And thank you for all of you who have helped that I forgot to name. Each one of us is a link on a bicycle chain. Without the links, the bike doesn’t move forward. Glad to report the bike is moving forward.

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