MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Erected with good intentions nearly 90 years ago, the statue of Christopher Columbus on the Minnesota State Capitol mall fell to wild applause. It was toppled two weeks ago not by policy, but protest.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan chairs the state’s Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board, which shares jurisdiction over public art with the Minnesota Historical Society.

“When Minnesotans do not feel that tearing down a statue is their only opportunity for change, we must make this works for them,” Flanagan said.

Debate over public art and statues is suddenly a heated point of discussion nationwide. After George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis one month ago, artistic symbols of slavery and oppression like historic figures have become targets of removal.

For that reason, the CAAPB is beginning the discussion to review its policies. State Sen. Sandy Pappas is a board member, and says she hopes to develop clear and appropriate policies to govern future removals of offensive public art.

The moment the Christopher Columbus statue on the Capitol’s mall was toppled by protesters (credit: CBS)

“Perhaps had we had a process in place, because this has been a sore point for a number of years, this Columbus statue, then I think the community might not have resorted to an extreme effort of moving it on their own,” Pappas said.

Back in 2015, paintings portraying Father Hennepin discovering the falls of St. Anthony and the Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux were removed from the governor’s reception room over concerns of how both portray Native Americans. They were moved to a large room on the third floor where they could be displayed with plaques containing detailed interpretations.

State Representative Dean Urdahl says clear policy is essential to any future efforts at interpreting history through art.

“It’s pretty clear who approves of placing the art there, but not so clear as to what happens if the art is to be removed,” Urdahl said.

Both inside the Capitol building and out on the expansive Capitol mall, it is the “People’s Gallery.” Art alone can’t rewrite the facts of history – but an accurate portrayal of past events can help teach it.

Bill Hudson

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