ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans can expect to hear from a state board within the next year what will become of monuments and artwork on state Capitol grounds -- including the statue of Christopher Columbus torn down by protesters last month -- depicting historical figures who committed racist acts.
At its Thursday, July 23, meeting, the state Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board (CAAPB) voted unanimously to create two task forces, one of which will develop a formal process to assess and potentially remove problematic imagery on Capitol grounds, and the other to field public input from Minnesotans on how they feel about various artwork on the grounds.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who chairs the board, said Thursday that as it stands, there is a "wide gap" between the public and the board when it comes to assessing whether commemorative works should be added, altered or removed entirely.
"The public deserves a robust, transparent and accessible process for commenting on this board’s decisions about any potential changes to the Capitol grounds," Flanagan said during the virtual board meeting. "The Statehouse and the Capitol grounds exist for the people of Minnesota. It is their house."
The unassuming state board, tasked with maintaining and preserving the Capitol and its grounds, was launched into the spotlight last month after protesters tore down the Columbus statue on the Capitol lawn. Before then, Flanagan joked that hardly anyone knew the board existed.
Last month's CAAPB meeting spiraled into a discussion over the merits of tearing down the Columbus statue, with some members arguing that Minnesotans should not destroy public property, and that the statue, and others like it, should instead be reinterpreted with fuller explanations of the darker parts of their histories. Others on the board said that a statue of Columbus shouldn't be up in the first place, as it creates a hostile atmosphere on the grounds for Native Minnesotans.
The CAAPB has authority to add, alter or remove commemorative works on Capitol grounds, and shares authority with the Minnesota Historical Society on artworks inside of the Capitol. The goal of the two new task forces is to create a new, standardized method with public input to make decisions about the future of memorials in the Capitol or on its grounds.
Appointments to both task forces -- which will be up to the governor's office to fill -- will be for two years in duration to allow for some "cushion," Flanagan said. But the goal is to wrap up a large portion of their work within the next six to eight months.
The task forces themselves will not have any deciding authority over the fate of any monuments; they will only establish the processes of alteration or removal, and field public input, respectively. Ideally, Flanagan said the task forces will complete that work within the six to eight months and present their findings to the CAAPB, which will then use those reports and public comments to make its final decision.
"Too often, (...) I think we make decisions in this building without being able to truly hear from the people who are most impacted," Flanagan said in a press call after Thursday's meeting. "Our goal is to make sure that people across the state of Minnesota, even if they’ve never been to the Capitol before, can truly feel that when they are in these walls and out on the lawn of the Capitol, that they are seen and heard and valued."