Walker Art Centre commissions new public work focused on Native American community

Walker Art Centre commissions new public work focused on Native American community
Walker Art Center. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Leading lights

The Walker Art Centre in Minnesota recently announced an open call to artists for a new public artwork for their Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The call to artists is a collaboration with the Indigenous Public Art Selection Committee and is directed towards Native American artists. The selected work will debut in 2020 and is part of an ongoing commitment by the museum to work alongside Native communities in the area, specifically the Dakota people.

This announcement comes only two years after a work by Los Angeles-based artist Sam Durant caused a lot of controversy amongst the Dakota Nation. His 2012 installation Scaffold drew inspiration from the gallows used in seven major execution cases in the US. This included the killing of 38 Dakota men in 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota, which is near Minneapolis. It was the largest mass execution to take place in US history. Scaffold, meant to stand symbolically against capital punishment, sparked outcry from Native American communities in the city. Many Native Americans and non-Native people felt the artwork added to the grief of an already traumatized population. Ultimately, the artwork was ceremonially burned by local Native leaders. At the time, Durant said he ‘wanted to apologize for the trauma, the suffering that [his] work [caused] in the community.’ The artist hoped that the decision to burn the sculpture would offer a cathartic ‘path for healing.’


Banners hung in protest of Sam Durant’s installation ‘Scaffold,’ which is visible in the background. Courtesy Flickr Commons.


The open call was put out on January 16th and submissions will be accepted through April 15th. Over the course of the next months, a number of workshops will be held in the area to assist artists with the creation of their proposals. Submissions will be assessed by ‘a group of Native curators, knowledge keepers, artists, and arts professionals, including individuals of Dakota descent and enrollment’ who make up the committee. The call is open to a large scope of people but ‘[a]rtists with in-depth knowledge and understanding of Dakota culture and language are encouraged to apply,’ according to the open call that written in both Dakota and English.

‘This project builds on the commitments the Walker has made to the Native community and I am excited to see the proposals and further the conversation,’ Mary Ceruti, incoming executive director of the Walker, said in a statement. Siri Engberg, senior curator of the Walker’s visual arts department told the StarTribune ‘…we wanted this to be a process that was understandable to artists, that would cast a wide net…’ so the inclusion of the Dakota language ‘[s]eemed like a good way to get the word out.’ Engberg stressed that the artwork doesn’t have to follow traditional sculptural means (think bronze statues) but ‘[i]t could be many different things. We want to keep that very open and encourage artists to be creative in the materials they think about.’

The selected artist or artist collective will receive $35,000-$40,000 for planning their artwork and another $110,000 for production.