From San Fransisco to New Hampshire, Communities Wrestle with Problematic Public Art

Here are  two more cases where negative images of Native Americans in historic public art have stirred citizen complaints, echoing the debates about confederate statues in the south.

The “Early Days” statue in San Fransisco will be removed. It is one five pieces of a larger monument.

Communities are facing critical questions about what values and stories they want displayed in their public spaces — and whether to hold onto some artwork simply because it’s old.

In San Fransisco, the city’s Arts Commission voted unanimously March 5 to remove a public statue titled “Early Days”. The statue “depicts a vaquero and a missionary standing over a sitting Native American,” according to an NPR story. It sends a clear message of who is on top and who is on the bottom, who has power and who does not.

“Early Days” was erected in 1894 as part of the five-piece Pioneer Monument, according to a San Fransisco city report. Pioneer Monument consists of one central monument standing 47-feet tall, surrounded by four smaller pedestal monuments.

Pioneer Monument is a testament to Manifest Destiny. One bas relief on the main monument shows “California’s Progress Under American Rule,” and one of five portrait medallions honors Father Junipero Serra who created the California mission system.

The five-piece monument was moved from its original site in the 1990s to make way for the new San Fransisco City Library. At the time, Native American community members pushed, unsuccessfully, to have the whole monument retired. They especially wanted “Early Days” removed, as it was “seen as a symbolization of the degradation and genocide of Native Americans,” the city report said.

“Early Days” now will be  “retained and preserved at an off-site storage facility,” according to the NPR story. A plaque will be installed at the site to explain its removal.

Meanwhile, in Durham, New Hampshire, home to the University of New Hampshire, an offensive Post Office painting remains. Community efforts to remove it are butting up against inflexible Post Office regulations. Continue reading

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NYC Launches Review of Public Art, One Model to Consider

New York City recently created a Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers,  a model worth reviewing. Just like our recent debate over art in the Minnesota State Capitol, many communities are wrestling with how our historic public art often tells a very narrow and inaccurate story.

The Commission was created in September. Mayor Bill de Blasio said:

There is an important conversation taking place right now about history and representation in public art, monuments and markers. Our diverse group of experts will create a thoughtful set of guidelines that acknowledge the complexities of history and the values that matter to us as New Yorkers.

Gaen hia uh, Betty Lyons (Onondaga Nation, Snipe Clan), President of the American Indian Law Alliance, recently spoke to the Commission. She asked that all statues of Columbus on public lands be removed and relocated.

Claims that Columbus was simply a man from the past, out of step with today’s values ignoring the fact that this is ongoing. This is not in the past.

Continuing to celebrate Columbus, and leaving monuments of him up is the continued act of erasure to ensure that “Americans” will never be educated on the reality of our harsh shared history. …

We are not asking for reconciliation as it is not possible to reconcile all that has been done but you can make a conscientious choice to do the right thing as these unspeakable horrors and many more are not deserving of celebration. We are asking the monuments of Columbus be moved to a museum, where they can be placed in accurate historical context for future generations to learn from. These monuments to hate must come down now!

Lyons full testimony can be found here.

A Teddy Roosevelt statue in New York City. (Wikimedia Commons)

Also, for a good 13-minute TED Talk on this topic, see: Can Art Amend History? Included is a commentary on a statue that sits in front of the New York City Natural History Museum. It depicts Teddy Roosevelt riding tall in the saddle. According to the Wikimeida description: “Roosevelt is shown on horseback as both a hunter and explorer. He is flanked by the figures of two guides, one Native American and one African, meant to symbolize the continents of America and Africa.”

Water Protector Updates from Minnesota to Maine; Burial Site on Fond du Lac Disturbed; Another Public Art Controversy … And More

Update on Enbridge Line 3:

Thanks to the people who are paying attention to Enbridge Line 3, the proposed tar sands crude oil pipeline that would cross 337 miles of northern Minnesota. The line would run from Alberta, through Minnesota, into Superior Wisconsin. While Minnesota is more than seven months away from a vote, Enbridge already has started work in Canada and Wisconsin. Here are photos of the work being done in Wisconsin from Neo Gabo Benais’ Facebook page.

Enbridge Line 3 would cross the Mississippi River, twice, and threaten wild rice areas. For more, see our Enbridge Line 3 page.

Penobscot Nation Thwarted in its Attempts to Protect the Waters of the Penobscot River

Here is another example of a Native nation trying to protect its sacred waters. In this case, the Penobscot are losing. Indian Country Today lays it out in a story:  Termination or Extermination for Penobscot Indian Nation? The State of Maine Declares Jurisdiction Over Penobscot River; Federal Courts Agree. The story says:

On June 30, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that severs the Penobscot Indian Nation from the waters of the Penobscot River, a ruling that Penobscot Indian Nation Chief Kirk Francis says is reminiscent of federal termination policy—or worse.

“The river and our relationship to it and the 200 islands [that form the reservation] are the core of our cultural identity. If our ability to protect the river is taken away, we lose a big part of who we are,” Francis told ICMN [Indian Country Media Network].

The Penobscot River has significant pollution problems already, the story said. A 2014 federal study recommended that members of the Penobscot nation limit themselves to eating one to two fish per month. That’s barely a meal. Young children and pregnant women aren’t supposed to eat river fish at all. That is a tremendous burden for nation that traditionally depends on fish for its diet, and a nation that cares deeply about the water.

More news follows. Continue reading

Growing Scrutiny of Public Art, Next Up: Edward Cornwallis

The sun is setting on the Edward Cornwallis statue.

Public art is getting long overdue scrutiny, from Confederate statues in Louisiana to historical paintings in the Minnesota State Capitol to the Scaffold sculpture controversy at the Walker Art Center. This is more than a few isolated incidents, it feels more like a movement.

This fact hit me square on while visiting Nova Scotia earlier this month. I wasn’t expecting any public art controversies, but there it was. I picked up a copy of the Globe and Mail and one of the first headlines I read said: Halifax mayor speaks out against protesters’ plan to remove Cornwallis statue. It was a familiar story:

Tensions over how Halifax honours its contentious founder are growing as a plan to topple the statue of Edward Cornwallis from a downtown park circulates on social media.

A Facebook event called “Removing Cornwallis” invites people to a protest Saturday to “peacefully remove” the large bronze statue from atop a large stone pedestal.

This is not a far-away story. This is our story, too. It’s one more facet of the Doctrine of Discovery and the European mindset towards indigenous peoples that spans our continent.

Cornwallis is controversial for the same reason that Alexander Ramsey, Minnesota’s first Governor, is controversial. Both men were agents of empire, forcing indigenous peoples from their lands. Both used brutal tactics. Cornwallis issued a proclamation promising a bounty for the scalp of every Mi’kmaq (also called Mi’kmaw, the First Nations people of Nova Scotia). Similarly, Ramsey put a bounty on Dakota scalps after the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.

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Public Art Honoring Cloud Man, Indigenous History, Planned Near Bde Maka Ska, Artists Selected

As the controversy over the installation and deconstruction of Scaffold in the Walker Sculpture Garden starts to settle, here’s an art project that celebrates Dakota history here in Minneapolis — their homeland.

A new pubic art project and gathering place is being planned to honor Mahpiya Wicasta/Cloud Man and reveal and celebrate the history of Heyata Otunwe, a village located on Bde Maka Ska from 1829-1839. (Bde Maka Ska is the original name for Lake Calhoun, and only recently has been restored.)

Last week, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the City of Minneapolis’ Art in Public Places program announced the artists selected to create the public art for this space.

  • Angela Two Stars – Descendant of Cloud Man (Mahpiya Wicasta), member of Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, born and raised on the Lake Traverse reservation of Sisseton, SD. Currently lives in East Lansing, MI. Graduate of Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI with a BFA in Drawing and Printmaking.
  • Mona Smith – Visual and multimedia artist of Dakota heritage. Currently lives in Minneapolis. Artist lead and co-founder of Healing Place Collaborative, Owner of Allies: Media/Art, past program coordinator for the National Indian AIDS Media Consortium, and creator of the Bdote Memory Map.
  • Sandy Spieler – Visual artist. Currently lives in Minneapolis. Founder and director of the annual May Day Parade and Ceremony at Powderhorn Park, 30-year advocate for issues pertaining to water, and recipient of a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellowship.

The design theme is “Story Awakening;” the goal is to honor and educate visitors about the broader history and culture of the Dakota and other Indigenous peoples who frequented and resided in this area over time.

Mahpiya Wicasta/Cloud Man’s Village was on the southeast corner of Bde Maka Ska. An early map shows the village as extending slightly north of present day West 34th Street, south into current Lakewood Cemetery, and east past Fremont Avenue, according to a Park Board document.

The artists and design team will share concepts with the public this fall.

For more information:

Here is an excerpt on Mahpiya Wicasta/Cloud Man, excerpted with permission from Gwen Westerman and Bruce White’s book: Mni Sota Makoce: Land of the Dakota.

The Southwest Journal ran a piece titled: Lakeside art to honor Cloud Man Village.

Here is the Park Board’s community engagement plan and different concepts for site development for this project.

For more information about this public art project, contact Ann Godfrey. For the full announcement about the artists selection process, click here.

Minneapolis Park Board Moves Ahead on Bde Maka Ska Public Art Project

bde_maka_ska_historic_village_locationThe Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has issued a call for artists to submit ideas for a pubic art project on the southeastern side of Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) that would “celebrate the history and culture of the Dakota and Native American people and honor Mahpiya Wicasta (Cloud Man) and Heyata Otunwe (Village to the Side).” It has set informational meetings for the public and interested artists.
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