The Walker Art Center bought the artwork Scaffold to include for the 2017 expansion and reopening of its Sculpture Garden. The sculpture raised considerable controversy as it was being installed, and when the Garden officially reopened, Scaffold was gone.

The 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 a gallows representing the one used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato in the wake of the 1862 Dakota-U.S. War — the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Minnesota is Dakota homeland. Neither the artist nor the Walker thought to ask Dakota people for their reaction.

“Scaffold” sculpture will be removed from the Walker Sculpture Garden.

As Scaffold was being erected, Dakota people and their allies protested the artwork. The Walker and the artist Sam Durant both issued public apologies for not being aware of how this would affect the Dakota community. The Walker agreed to remove the sculpture following mediated talks with Dakota elders.

The wood from the sculpture was given to the Dakota people.  Months after the controversy calmed down, Olga Viso resigned as Walker’s executive director. The Walker committed to seek institutional changes so this kind of decision doesn’t happen again.

The Walker began discussions with Dakota artists about a piece of artwork either to replace Scaffold or to exhibit elsewhere on the Center’s campus. As of early 2019, the Walker began taking proposals from indigenous artists.

The issue of cultural appropriation is not unique to the Walker. Many institutions lack diverse voices in leadership that could help flag problems and be more inclusive in decision making.

Dakota leaders have organized a group called Oyate Hotanin, or Indigenous Estate, a community response to Scaffold and multiple incidents of invisibility and disregard of Native artists, narratives and images. According to its Facebook page: “We are working to host regular artistic events and imbed community conversations in these events to develop a movement in Indian country that supports a new era of art, healing and change.”

Here are previous Healing Minnesota Stories blogs on Scaffold, and links to other media coverage to provide more background and details:

Healing Minnesota Stories Blogs

Nov. 14, 2017: Viso Resigns from Walker, Other News and Events

Nov. 5, 2017: Dakota Elders Calling on the Walker Art Center to Create an American Indian Advisory Council

July 7, 2017: Walker’s Latest Controversy with Native American Community Members: How Will it Embrace the Moment?

June 21, 2017: Reflections on “Scaffold”: Artistic Freedom, the Son of Sam, and Repentance

June 11, 2017: Sen. Klobuchar Weighs In on “Scaffold”; Trump Budget Hurts Indian County

June 9, 2017: Guest Blog on “Scaffold”: A Sacred Call for Deconstructing Oppression

June 6, 2017: Dakota Elders Put Ceremonial Burning of “Scaffold” Wood on Hold to Build Consensus

June 5, 2017: Applause for Dakota Elders’ Leadership in Taking Down “Scaffold”; Questions Remain about Cultural Appropriation

June 2, 2017: … And “Scaffold” Came Tumbling Down

June 1, 2017: Will Walker Embrace Institutional Changes in the Wake of “Scaffold” Controversy?

May 31, 2017: Please Attend Ceremonial Deconstruction of “Scaffold” at the Walker Sculpture Garden, Friday at 2 p.m.

May 30, 2017: After Dismantling a Sculpture in Wake of Protests, Walker Must Lead Effort to Dismantle Inequity

May 29, 2017: “Scaffold” Sculptor Seems to Contradict Himself

May 29, 2017: “Scaffold” Sculptor Apologizes to Dakota People

May 29, 2017: Chief Arvol Looking Horse’s Statement on Walker’s “Scaffold”: Walk Towards Peace … Take Down the Sculpture

May 29, 2017: Walker Delays Sculpture Garden Reopening, Leaving Space for Mediation with Dakota Elders

May 29, 2017: Dakota Elders Call Dakota Community Meeting to Discuss Walker Art Center’s “Scaffold” Sculpture

May 28, 2017: Walker Art Center Will Remove Scaffold Sculpture, Dialogue with Dakota Elders to Proceed

May 27, 2017: Dakota Elders to Walker Art Center: Tear Down That Scaffold

Media Coverage

Star Tribune

Pioneer Press



City Pages

Rochester Post Bulletin

Mankato Free Press

National News