The Walker Art Center has issued a Call to Indigenous Artists to submit proposals for a new work for the Sculpture Garden. This follows the 2017 controversy over Scaffold, a sculpture that triggered strong protests from the Dakota, Minnesota’s original peoples. Continue reading
Tonight, Thursday, May, 3, the Walker Art Center is hosting a free event called: Choosing Home: A Right, A Privilege or An Act of Trespass. It is described as: “a multidisciplinary presentation where artists/collaborators Dyani White Hawk Polk, Alanna Morris-Van Tassel and Rosy Simas assess the current state of the North American landscape and one’s ability to claim it as home.”
Coincidentally, the New York Times and the Star Tribune both ran recent Op/Eds by Olga Viso, the Walker’s former executive director, who left the job after the “Scaffold” controversy. Viso’s Op/Ed was headlined: Decolonizing the Art Museum: The Next Wave. She opens with this question:
Museums have long considered themselves above the fray of the political. But the past 18 months have brought unexpected challenges, and leaders across the country are being confronted with an urgent question: How do museums reconceive their missions at a time of great societal reckoning around race and gender, and as more diverse audiences demand a voice and a sense of accountability?
[Update: The headline and parts of this blog have been updated after the Mia requested corrections and clarifications. First, it’s Oyate Hotanin that is organizing this event, the Mia is hosting it by providing the space. It is part of the Mia’s broader mission: to “create a space that welcomes Native people, and hold events that get Native people interested in attending.” Second, the Mia wanted it known this isn’t a conversation about Scaffold, “this conversation is about the state of Native American art within Western Institutions,” and the Mia is in no way making a statement “directly against the Walker and the Scaffold incident.”]
The following announcement was posted on the Minnesota Indian List Serve:
Friday, Jan. 26, 6-8 p.m.Minneapolis Institute of Art2400 3rd Ave. S. Minneapolis
Indigenous Estate [Oyate Hotanin] is the community response to the scaffold placed by the Walker in the sculpture garden and multiple incidents of invisibility and disregard of Native artists, narratives and images.
It is a series of conversations to engage community around the questions: Who governs identity and cultural appropriation? How do we navigate authenticity versus censorship? What is art in this reality? What is the role of the art world in responding? Is the art world complicit?
Join us for a reception at MIA with traditional storyteller Colin Wesaw. We invite you to join the conversation and shape this vision with us.
Oyate Hotanin Indigenous Estate Leadership Team
Nick Metcalf, Heidi Inman, Al Gross, Crystal Norcross, Thomas LaBlanc, Laura LaBlanc, Cindy Killion
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 sculpture Scaffold. 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?