Walker Art Center Looks Past Scandal With an Open Call to Native American Artists for a New Public Commission

The project follows through on assurances made to Dakota elders in the wake of the Sam Durant controversy.

Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Two years after Sam Durant’s controversial commission at the Walker Art Center was ceremonially buried after sparking outrage among Native American communities around Minneapolis, the museum has launched an open call directed at Native artists for a public art project to be exhibited at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden or on the Walker campus by 2020.

The project stems from commitments made by the museum in collaboration with Dakota elders during the mediation process that led the the removal of Durant’s sculpture. His installation, Scaffold (2012), was partly inspired by the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato in 1862 and was intended as a symbol against capital punishment.

But Native communities protested the work, arguing that it traumatized groups that had already been victimized. After talks with the Walker’s director at the time, Olga Viso, the installation was handed over to Native groups and dismantled.

The open call for the new commission, which is written in Dakota and English, is meant to turn the page. According to the Star Tribune, museum staff will work with an eight-person committee, including Native artists and curators, to shortlist three submissions from the pool of applicants. The finalists will be invited to make a more detailed proposal.

“We wanted this to be a process that was understandable to artists, that would cast a wide net,” senior curator Siri Engberg told the Star Tribune. “This seemed to us to be a good way to get the word out.”

She added that she was counting on the creativity of the applicants. Public art is “not necessarily a bronze sculpture,” she sad. “It could be many different things. We want to keep that very open and encourage artists to be creative in the materials they think about.”

According to the Star Tribune, the production budget is capped at $110,000 and the winning artist will receive $35,000 in payment.

Proposals are due by April 15. More information is on the Walker Art Center’s website.


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