The Star Tribune is reporting that Olga Viso is resigning as the Walker Art Center’s executive director effective at the end of the year.
Viso has led the Walker since 2008. No reason was given for her resignation. Her decision to step down comes after the Walker finished the multi-million overhaul of its campus and the Sculpture Garden. Her resignation also comes on the heals of the controversy over the sculpture Scaffold, a piece that was added to the new Sculpture Garden and ultimately removed.
Scaffold, a two-story tall sculpture, included seven different historic gallows; it was supposed to be a commentary on capital punishment. However, the sculpture’s most prominent feature was the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato in the wake of the 1862 Dakota-U.S. War — the largest mass hanging in U.S. history. Neither the artist nor the Walker thought to ask Dakota people for their reaction, and as soon as it was put up it was engulfed in controversy and protest.
Dialogue continues between the Dakota Community and the Walker Art Center as a follow-up to the controversy over — and ultimate removal of — the sculptureScaffold. In this next phase, Dakota elders are calling on the Walker to create an American Indian Advisory Council as a permanent part of its healing work.
The following was posted on the Minnesota Indian List Serve by Ronald P. Leith, the designated spokesperson for the Dakota Nation’s Elders Council. (Leith is a Red Lake Nation/Mdewakantowan Dakota Lineal Descendant.)
Walker Art Center, Dakota Elders & Indian Community Conference for Reconciliation
Date: November 30, 2017
Time: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Place: Norway House, 913 East Franklin Ave., Mpls.
Since the dismantling of the Walker Art Center scaffold structure the Dakota Elders Council, along with the support of the Walker Art Center, has worked to remove and obliterate the wood that was used to construct the scaffold. This process is now coming to a end.
The Dakota Elders are now taking this opportunity to lead the process of reconstructing a damaged relationship between the Walker Art Center and the Dakota Community in particular and the Indian community in general.
The Elders Council has [said] several items they would like to present … reconciliation opportunities. One of which is the establishment of an American Indian Advisory Council to serve as permanent component to the WAC organizational infrastructure.
At this meeting the Dakota Elders Council will be calling for nominations for this advisory council. Continue reading →
The wood from the controversial sculpture ‘Scaffold‘ will be buried, not burned, local Native leaders say. Several news outlets have provided accounts, including MPR and the StarTribune. According to the MPR story:
Tribal elders decided the original plan to destroy the work in a ceremonial fire at Fort Snelling was inappropriate, said Ronald P. Leith, a Dakota member who was involved in negotiations …
The Walker Art Center erected Scaffold earlier this year, a new addition for the reopening of its renowned outdoor sculpture garden. The work was supposed to be a commentary on capital punishment, a conglomeration of several historic gallows. But the sculpture’s most prominent feature was the massive gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato following the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.
Native people found Scaffold offensive and hurtful, as the hanging of the Dakota 38 (plus 2 additional hangings later at Fort Snelling) continues to be a deeply painful part of their history. A white artist did the piece and Dakota people weren’t consulted. Following the controversy, the Walker agreed to remove the sculpture.
The wood will be buried in an undisclosed location, a decision which reflects the issues that arose following the mass hanging.
“During 1862, when the original scaffold was dismantled and the prisoners were buried … there was a deluge of scavengers, grave diggers, that went after the wood — souvenir, hunter types,” said Leith. “We have a concern that if we were to disclose where the wood was going, we might see a repeat of that same thing.”
The Walker Art Center made the right decision when it agreed to remove Scaffold from its new Sculpture Garden, yet for some thorny questions of artistic freedom remain.
We get stuck in this debate when we see the decision to remove Scaffold as a referendum on artistic freedom. That polarizes people. Yes, we deeply value artistic freedom, yet we hold other deep values, too, like fairness and inclusion. When values don’t line up on a particular decision, we have a difficult choice to make.
So here’s the question: In the case of Scaffold, how would those of us who agree with removing the sculpture describe our deeper values, those that in this case override our value for artistic freedom?
The Walker Sculpture Garden reopened on Saturday, an event delayed by protests over the controversial new work Scaffold which ultimately was removed. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke at the Grand Reopening and talked about Scaffold, according to a Star Tribune story.
A commentary on capital punishment, Scaffold’s prominent feature replicated the giant 1862 gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men all at once, following the Dakota-U.S. War. Neither the artist nor the Walker thought to engage the Dakota community around the work, one of the worst moments in their nation’s history and the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Institution and artist have apologized and had the sculpture removed, never to be rebuilt.
The Star Tribune reported Klobuchar’s words:
“Today is about a celebration of our modern garden in the present,” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, standing with Olga Viso, the art center’s executive director, and others. “But it is also about history. As we learned so painfully in the last few weeks, it is about how, in the present, we remember and respect the past.”
Klobuchar told the crowd that her husband, John Bessler, grew up in Mankato, a few blocks from where the 1862 mass hanging took place, and later wrote a book about the executions: “Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions In Minnesota.” Not everyone knew about “this heart-wrenching story,” she said. But because of recent protests, meetings and the sculpture’s removal, “many more now do.”
The Walker’s mistake, Klobuchar continued, “jarred us into remembering that history has a way of repeating itself if not respected and remembered.”
Comment: The Star Tribune story also said: “The reopening had been pushed back a week after American Indian leaders protested the inclusion of ‘Scaffold’ …” That’s true, but incomplete. There were many non-Native people who found the sculpture inappropriate, too. That helped pressure the Walker to act. It is important to remember this is not just an “American Indian” issue.
Trump Budget Hurts Indian Country
Indian Country Today ran a June 9 story titled: Will President Trump Eliminate the BIA? The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) funding has been on the decline in recent years and Trump’s plan continues that trend, the story said. The president’s plan allocates $2.5 billion for Indian affairs—a $370 million reduction for the BIA and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) alone. Yet there are more federally recognized tribes (567) than ever before, all with divergent needs, it said.
In addition, it noted:
On March 13, Trump signed an executive order entitled “A Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch,” and he has since directed the Office of Management and Budget “to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies…components of agencies, and agency programs.”
Indian Country doesn’t know yet how the Department of the Interior might try to “reorganize” the BIA, but it is worried and watching.
Karen Hering is a consulting literary minister for Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul and writes a blog called: “Writing to Wake the Soul.” She wrote a powerful reflection on the removal of “Scaffold” from the Walker Sculpture Garden. It is republished here by permission.
Taking It Down: A Sacred Call for Deconstructing Oppression
On June 2, 2017, over 300 people gathered in downtown Minneapolis on the grounds of the Walker Art Museum’s redesigned sculpture garden, not quite finished and not yet opened, to witness the ceremonial deconstruction of an installation titled “Scaffold.” Designed by artist Sam Durant, “Scaffold” was modeled after a gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862, the largest public execution in the history of the U.S.. A week before the planned reopening of the sculpture garden, the Walker engaged Dakota elders in a conversation about “Scaffold” and its possible impact on local audiences. Protests immediately called for its removal, and within one week, the Walker had postponed the garden’s reopening, participated in an independently mediated conversation with Dakota elders and the artist, and agreed to dismantle the installation in a public ceremony planned and led by Dakota elders. Other posts on-line offer more information about the sculpture and its deconstruction.
This reflection is based on my experience of the June 2 ceremony, with the hope of sharing the sorrow, the power and the call of that day’s events. The quotes are all from Sheldon Wolfchild’s opening words, delivered before the sacred ceremony began (which we were asked not to record out of respect). The wooden structure required four days to dismantle; the “Scaffold’s” understructure of steel and cement was then broken down by the Walker and also removed.
Taking It Down: a sacred call for deconstructing oppression
June 2, 2017: It is a hot summer’s day. Sun high in the blue sky. A crowd of over 300 gathers, a drum beats, a song thrums. Sheldon Wolfchild, Dakota elder from the Lower Sioux Agency, addresses the crowd. He says:
This is a sacred process…. Let us remember what this historical truth has brought us.
Behind him a newly constructed wooden scaffold looms. Unlike the gallows built in Mankato in the dead of winter 155 years earlier, after which it is modeled, this one is solid and built to last. Its beams are treated to withstand all weather, its foundation is cement, its invisible supports made of steel. The photos of it published in the previous week do not begin to represent its ominous presence and menacing energy. Wolfchild continues:
This is a sacred process to dismantle negativity. Let us all work together in one prayer from the heart, not the mind, as our elders say.Continue reading →
Here is the latest update on Scaffold, released June 5 on behalf of the Dakota elders:
The wood has been taken off the “Scaffold” structure by Straightline Construction led by Dakota construction workers. who worked over the weekend. All of the wood has been removed, and placed in rolloff bins that will be taken off site to a safe, secure location owned by the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. The rest of the deconstruction work will be completed by a local company to take out the steel and the concrete. The steel will be recycled.
The process of taking the rolloff bins off site began this afternoon.
The signs are taken off the fences and those who made them can request them back. (American Indian Center)
The main focus was to get the structure down.Now the main focus will shift to what happens to the wood.
Recognizing that more people from the Dakota community wish to participate in this process and it takes time to call a meeting, there is no elder meeting this week regarding the next steps for the wood. They wish to take time, slow down and allow more voices.
Until the larger Dakota Oyate is able to meet, there will be no actions except to keep the wood stored in a safe, secure location owned by Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
1) there is no formal ceremony at Fort Snelling this week.
2) there is no formal burning of the wood from the sculpture this week.
In the end, the elders may decide that the wood should not go to Fort Snelling, The elders may decide that the wood from the sculpture should not be burned and instead should be used/disposed in some other way. Or they may choose to proceed. But this decision will be made it their way and their time at the site of their choosing.
The Dakota Oyate from Minnesota and those in exile seek an opportunity to weigh in and make decisions in an attempt to create participation first and to then build consensus.