The Minnesota Capitol features some truly awful art. Whatever the judgment from an aesthetic perspective, several paintings inside the building are awful because they are offensive, racist, and historically inaccurate. They show heroic white “discoverers,” backed by priests and angels, bringing Christianity and “civilization” to Indians in Minnesota.
Writing in The Circle, Scott Russell summarizes the current debate over paintings that date to the early 1900s:
“The capitol art debate is similar to the debate about flying the Confederate Flag over the South Carolina statehouse. Both involve a battle over symbols. In the Minnesota context, the questions are: Do these paintings and symbols reflect the best of our heritage and values? What do we do with art and symbols that are unwelcoming and hurtful?”
A Change.org petition asks for five steps:
- Remove offensive, traumatizing paintings from the capitol, including:The Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the Mississippi; Father Hennepin Discovering the Falls of St. Anthony; The Signing of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux; and The Battle of Killdeer Mountain.
- Find a new home for the capitol art that is removed, where it can be remembered and interpreted.
- Better interpret the capitol’s remaining historic art, preferably with interactive touch screens.
- Provide more in-depth training for capitol tour guideson the art’s history and meaning.
- Add new capitol artthat reflects and honors Minnesota’s current ethnic and cultural diversity.
The Capitol renovation now underway offers a unique opportunity to act. The Art Subcommittee of the Minnesota State Capitol Restoration Project is considering the issue. The current Capitol artwork, notes MinnPost, represents the point of view of “the people who designed and built the Capitol, almost all of whom were male and white.” Those were the people represented, but they were not the only or the first Minnesotans. Their perspective is certainly not representative of Minnesota today. Anton Treuer, executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University and a member of the subcommittee, explained in MinnPost:
“Nobody sees the world as it is, we all see it as we are. From a Native perspective, there are 10,000 years of documented history in Minnesota before white guys showed up. The absence of real substantive acknowledgment of that is screaming out to me. It doesn’t happen very often that we have a chance to have this kind of conversation. They are going to remodel the Capitol every 100 years or so, and I think it’s an important opportunity to think about what we have, and what’s missing.”
Scott Russell, who’s been sending out email updates on the subcommittee process, notes that there is a public hearing coming up this Thursday, November 12, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board building, 2117 West River Road North. Comments can also be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. And there’s that Change.org petition sponsored by Healing Minnesota Stories: Make the Minnesota State Capitol More Welcoming: Remove Offensive Art, Add Inspiring Art.
- The Hon. Paul Anderson, Minnesota Supreme Court (ret.) Co-Chair
- Sen. David Senjem, Co-Chair
- Rep. Diane Loeffler, Co-Chair
- Dana Badgerow, Better Business Bureau
- Prof. William Green, Augsburg College
- Peter Hilger, University of Minnesota
- Ted Lentz, Ted Lentz & Associates, Cass Gilbert Society
- Sen. Ann Rest
- Anton Treuer, Executive Director, American Indian Resource Center, Bemidji State University
- Rep. Dean Urdahl
- Matthew Welch, Deputy Director, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
- Prof. Gwen Westerman, Minnesota State University, Mankato
Want to learn more?
Art glorifying the conquest of Indians needs to leave state capitol (The Circle, 11/3/2015)
Healing Minnesota Stories has a blog devoted to the Capitol art issue.
- Sept. 19, 2015 blog: MN Capitol Art Update: Indian Concerns at the Bottom of the Agenda
- Aug. 4, 2015 blog: Capitol Art Subcommittee Says Goal is to “Tell Minnesota Stories That Engage People”
- July 21, 2015 blog: Capitol Art Update: First Glimpse at the Review Process
- April 23, 2015 blog: Native Americans in Capitol Art: An Opportunity for Change