Youth Art in Capitol Tells Subversive Message: “Clean Drinking Water Starts With Me”

Art by Claudia St. Germaine, New Prague ALC, hangs in the Capitol’s Public Business Center as part of an exhibit of student art on the importance of clean drinking water.
Capitol’s third floor Public Business Center.

Tucked away in room on the Capitol’s third floor hangs a student art exhibit with the unifying theme of “Clean Water Starts with Me.”

The theme just as well could have been: “Water is Life.”

I was particularly struck with by a piece by high school student Claudia St. Germaine (above) with lakes and pines. It creates a typical northern Minnesota scene, perhaps one of the areas where the giant Canadian corporation Enbridge is proposing to dig a large trench to bury a 36-inch pipeline carrying tar sands crude oil, the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world.

This pipeline is the kind of project that threatens our clean drinking water, something too many state officials have chosen to ignore.

Art by Maeve Dyer, Grade 1, Matoska International School, White Bear Lake.

The artwork hangs in the Capitol’s Public Business Center. There is no interpretive material to explain the exhibit. A little online digging shows this is part of the Minnesota Department of Health’s 2019 School Water Poster Contest, “to have students develop posters about drinking water.” Click on the link to see the winners.

This art display was a delightful encounter.

Several years ago, during the Capitol’s major renovation, Healing Minnesota Stories got involved with the debate over the Capitol’s art, some of which was racist. We developed a traveling art exhibit that showed contrasted historic (and offensive) Capitol art with student art created to offer an alternative vision of Minnesota at its best.

Our hope at the time was that the Capitol would add student art after it reopened. Now it has.

Art by Angelina More, Grade 7, Hmong College Preparatory School, St. Paul.

Due to the work of many advocates, some of the offense art was removed from the Capitol, or moved to less prominent locations. One example is the painting of  Father Hennepin discovering the Falls at St. Anthony, which once hung in the Governor’s Reception Room.  (Even though Father Hennepin was a Dakota prisoner at the time of his visit to the falls, the painting depicts him looming over the Dakota people, a cross in his outstretched arm, presuming to rename a place that long had a Dakota name.

Matti McDaniel, Grade 6, Central Middle School, White Bear Lake.

The Father Hennepin painting now hangs in a low traffic area on the Capitol’s third floor (right next to the room with the student art.)

Most of the student art addresses simple things kids can do to save water: turning off the faucet when you aren’t using it, not overfilling the bathtub, that sort of thing.

But the art poses an important (and subversive) message for adults in the building.

Contrast the message in the student art with ongoing debate about the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline. That line would open a new pipeline corridor through northern Minnesota. It would cross 211 streams and pass through 75 linear miles of wetlands. It will run under the Mississippi River — twice.

The state’s Environmental Impact Statement found that Line 3 would run with 2,500 feet (less than a half a mile) of:

  • 1,615 acres of “drinking water sources”
  • 675 acres of wild rice lakes
  • 190 acres of well head protection areas
  • 618 domestic wells (potentially at risk from released oil plumes)
  • 300 acres of sensitive shoreline

Ten miles downstream from Line 3 water crossings are:

  • 3,396 acres of wild rice lakes (982 acres of harvested wild rice lakes)
  • 829 acres of drinking water sources
Art by Youa Moua, Grade 1, Willow Lane Elementary.

Spills would be disastrous. And the Minnesota Department of Commerce says that Enbridge has not proved the project is needed.

The Minnesota Senate’s response? It’s pushing a bill (SF1757) to defund the lawsuit Commerce filed to stop the pipeline and close off debate.

These are not signs of a group of leaders who believe “Clean Water Begins with Me.”

If you are in the Capitol and need a break, go check out Room 318.

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