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.
The East Side Freedom Library is hosting a community discussion about the four murals in the chambers shared by the St. Paul City Council and the Ramsey County Board. These Depression-era murals have been controversial because of how they portray our history. They have images that are not welcoming to all members of the community, including a priest towering over Native Americans and converting them.
The community discussion will be held at the library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, St. Paul, on Thursday, Jan. 10, from 7 – 8:30 p.m. St. Paul City Council Member Jane Prince (7th Ward) and Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough will participate. The event is free and open to the public. Here is the Facebook Event Page to share.
The murals in question occupy are in Notre Dame’s Main Building (the building with the golden dome.) As the story notes: “All tours of the campus include a stop there, and its steps are where the marching band gathers before football games.”
But lining the walls of the second floor’s main hallway are 11-foot murals that send the wrong message about Notre Dame, say more than 450 students, faculty, staff and alumni who have signed an open letter to the university president urging their removal.
The 12 Renaissance-style murals, painted from 1882 to 1884 by Vatican portrait artist Luigi Gregori, depict and celebrate Christopher Columbus, who at that time was seen as something of “American saint,” according to a pamphlet produced by University Communications.
The arguments on both sides will be familiar to anyone who followed the debate about the art in the Minnesota State Capitol.
The university says murals “are of historic and artistic value,” and they will stay in place.
The letter writers call the murals the university’s “own version of a Confederate monument.” “The letter says they are contrary to Notre Dame’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, not to mention the church’s teaching on universal human dignity.”