Native Americans get in a Catch-22 when they are asked to participate in controversial political debates with outside governments. If they don’t participate, they can be criticized for not taking advantage of the process available to them. If they do participate, the powers-that-be can check the box that says “Talked to the Indians.” That gives the final recommendations a little more credibility because the Native Americans were consulted (even though it didn’t have an impact).
For a case study, let’s look at the debate over Minnesota Capitol art.
The debate over art in the Minnesota State Capitol is shifting from a review of the old art to a discussion of what new art and new stories should be added. An important part of that discussion will be how to better include images of women and people of color amid the current art collection that has a near-exclusive emphasis on white men.
Other states have led the way in adding new Capitol art. For instance, the Alaska,Georgia and other states have dedicated Capitol space for student art. In New Mexico, they created an Art Foundation to select a wide array of new artwork done by New Mexican artists to display in their Capitol.
At the Minnesota Art Subcommittee’s May 5 meeting, Tri-Chair Rep. Diane Loeffler presented some initial guidelines to consider for adding new art. Also, the Subcommittee discussed the challenges and capacity to add rotating art exhibits.
These issues and others will be hashed out in the Art Subcommittee’s final two meetings — tentatively Friday June 3 and Friday June 17 — before it issues its final report in late June.
Everyone now faces a big time crunch. Much of the Capitol is scheduled to reopen for business in early 2017 for the start of the next full legislative session. That is a mere eight months away. The Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission asked the Art Subcommittee to move up the deadline on its final report so recommendations can be implemented in time for the reopening. (The formal grand reopening won’t happen until the project is done in the fall of 2017.)
At the March 5 Art Subcommittee meeting, members were discussing the minutia of the size and location of basement wall sconces and how they would fit with new art. They still didn’t have a sense of how many spaces existed for new art in the main Capitol corridors. Once those questions get sorted out, it will take time to evaluate and select new art.
There is a chance (probably a really good chance) that much of the area designated for new art could be bare come January. Further, the hoped-for improvements in the historical interpretation of existing art may not be in place due to lack of funds.
The Art Subcommittee reviewing art in the Minnesota State Capitol is beginning to flesh out what it considers to be its “low hanging fruit” recommendations, including plans to have all four Civil War painting remain in the Governor’s Reception Room.
At the Jan. 11 meeting, there did not appear to be strong support to remove any of the controversial art from the building. There was some openness to relocating art within the Capitol, including the Governor’s Reception Room paintings of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and Father Hennepin Discovering the Falls at St. Anthony. Continue reading →