A quick update on how other communities are dealing with controversial public art: The University of Notre Dame has announced it will cover controversial Columbus murals, according to an article in the Smithsonian Magazine. It begins:
For more than 130 years, 12 towering murals depicting Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas have flanked a hallway in the University of Notre Dame’s Main Building. But late last week, the university announced that it plans to cover the murals; in a letter explaining the decision, Notre Dame’s president described the artworks as memorializing “a catastrophe” for indigenous peoples.
This is part of a national conversation about public art. St. Paul could learn from Notre Dame’s example.
There are four large murals in the chambers shared by the St. Paul City County and Ramsey County Board of Commissioners that depict white supremacy and Manifest Destiny. They create an unwelcoming space for many citizens who come there to speak to their elected council members and county commissioners. The Ramsey County Historical Society is creating a task force of community members to select and guide local artists in creating new art that will cover two of the four murals at any one time.
That means at any one time, two of the historical murals will remain on display in this public space.
Advocacy still is needed to convince local leaders that all four murals should be covered then moved. If Notre Dame is going to cover all its Columbus murals, surely St. Paul can cover all of its murals. The best option would be to move them to a museum or other space where they can be interpreted appropriately.
The first meeting of the task force reviewing art in the Ramsey County Courthouse is Thursday, Feb. 28 at 3 p.m. at the Courthouse.
Let’s hope St. Paul does a better job than our state leaders did several years ago with their review of controversial art in the Minnesota Capitol.
To their credit, the review of Capitol resulted in the relocation of two controversial pieces in the Governor’s Conference Room — including one of Father Hennepin “discovering” the Falls at St., Anthony. Two controversial paintings were removed from the Capitol, including the “Battle of Killdeer Mountain“. It memorialized Minnesota soldiers massacring Lakota and Dakota people in the Dakota Territory.
The Art Committee did not address all problematic art. It was warned it could be disbanded if it made recommendations about art in the House and Senate chambers, according to co-chair Paul Anderson.
Particularly troubling is the large, racist mural in the Minnesota Senate Chambers titled: “The Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the Mississippi,” a painting that depicts the forced conversation of half-naked indigenous people. (Since the photo, above, was taken, the state has paid to have this mural restored.)
The Art Committee also didn’t review the pubic art on the Capitol Mall, which includes a statue honoring Columbus.