By Jane McClure
Installing more inclusive artwork in the chambers of Saint Paul City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse is moving forward, but not without sharp disagreements among City Council members. After more than an hour of debate on August 12, the council voted 5-1 to install new artwork to cover murals that have been deemed racist by some.
The Ramsey County Board also debated the artwork and the selection process before voting on August 11 to move ahead with the project, which was led by a joint city-county task force. The process has drawn criticism from Dakota artists who said they were not included in it.
Four new works will be unveiled this week, covering murals by John Norton that have been in place since the building was constructed in the 1930s. The murals have been criticized for featuring white men towering over Native Americans and Black laborers.
Council member Jane Prince voted against the new artwork and council member Dai Thao abstained. Both spoke for hearing from Native American leaders before displaying the new art, citing the Dakota’s role as the first people in the region. Council member Nelsie Yang joined Thao and Prince in a failed effort to delay approval of the art installation for a week.
City and county leaders have worked on plans for the new artwork since late 2018. At that time, some Dakota members objected to a previous proposal to put new art beside the existing art. They then opted out of the group working on the artwork.
The Ramsey County Historical Society led the process. The artists selected for the new works were Leah Yellowbird of Grand Rapids, Emily Donovan of Saint Paul, the Latinx Mural Apprenticeship Project organized by the Latino nonprofit organization CLUES, and Adam Swanson of the Fond du Lac Reservation near Cloquet. In the long term, the intent is to rotate artwork in and out of the chambers.
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