HMS “Challenging Public Art” Exhibit Opens May 26; U.S. House Committee Seeks Changes in Capitol Art Interpretation

“Challenging Public Art” will run from May 26-June 30 at First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis.

Healing Minnesota Stories is remounting its traveling art exhibit that highlights racist art in public spaces and offering alternative student art as one path forward.

The exhibit, “Challenging Public Art,” will run from May 26 to June 30 at First Unitarian Society, 900 Mt Curve Ave, Minneapolis. A reception will be held on Sunday, June 9, noon-1 p.m. Jim Bear Jacobs, Director of Racial Justice for the Minnesota Council of Churches and Healing Minnesota Stories founder, will speak on the exhibit.

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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. Continue reading

Notre Dame Covers Controversial Murals, Ramsey County Courthouse Should Follow Its Lead

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.

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Change is Coming to Racist Murals in St. Paul City Hall and You Can Play a Role

Task Force Volunteers Sought to Help Select Artists for New Installations in Chambers Used by the City Council and Ramsey County Commission

Four large murals in St. Paul City Hall depict white supremacy and Manifest Destiny, creating 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.

Advocacy still is needed to convince local leaders that all four murals should be moved to a different location, such as a museum. Still, there is a great opportunity for people to help select the new art. The Historical Society is seeking task force applicants, according to a recent posting on the Historical Society website. Chad Roberts, President of the Ramsey County Historical Society, will chair the 11-member group.

Here is the online application process.

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This Day in History: Nelson Act Breaks Treaties, Steals Anishinaabe Land in Minnesota, Forces Assimilation

On this day in history, Jan. 14, 1889, Congress approved “An act for the relief and civilization of the Chippewa Indians in the State of Minnesota.Not surprisingly, that’s a euphemism. The act did not provide relief. Quite the opposite, it violated treaties, forced assimilation, and stole Native lands. Continue reading

Public Art Updates: More Challenges to the Historic Figures We Honor Through Art and Naming

Stephen Austin (Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.)

The Pew Charitable Trust’s Stateline publication ran a story — In Wake of Charlottesville, New Scrutiny for Native American Statues — that reported on a number of public art changes and challenges going on across the country. For instance, in  Kalamazoo, Mich., officials removed a granite sculpture from the city’s Fountain of the Pioneers, showing “a pioneer, weapon raised, rising above a Native American.”

Last week, Austin, Texas’ Equity Office recommended renaming seven streets and removing three markers honoring Confederate history, “calling it a high priority for the city to decide,” according to a story in the Washington Post. Possible changes include renaming “Confederate Avenue” and “Dixie Drive.” Perhaps its most controversial recommendation was suggesting a possible name change for the city itself, since Stephen Austin worked to perpetuate slavery.

These issues are surfacing locally and nationally and represent deeply important community conversations. Continue reading

Reflections on Stephan Foster, the Kentucky Derby, and Racism in Art and Song

Statue of Foster in Pittsburgh is removed. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Here is the latest chapter in public entities stepping up to the ongoing and necessary work of questioning the history we tell through public art — and changing it when necessary.

The city of Pittsburgh just removed an 800-pound bronze statue of songwriter Stephan Foster with a black man sitting at his feet playing the banjo, according to an April 26 story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

The move fol­lowed an Oc­to­ber de­ci­sion by the Pitts­burgh Art Com­mis­sion, which found that the statue should be re­moved within six months and hosted in a pri­vate, “prop­erly con­tex­tu­alized” lo­ca­tion. Many res­i­dents have held that the sculp­ture — show­ing a shoe­less African-Amer­i­can banjo player seated at the famed com­poser’s feet — is con­de­scend­ing or out­right rac­ist. Speak­ers at com­mis­sion meet­ings last year largely agreed.

These are issues confronting civic leaders around the country, including the recent debate about art in the Minnesota State Capitol which had mixed results.

Time to Change the Kentucky Derby’s Theme Song

In related news about Foster, a piece ran in the Washington Post today headlined: “‘My Old Kentucky Home’: The Kentucky Derby’s beloved, fraught singalong about slavery.” Continue reading