Festivities for the 25th anniversary of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden begin in May, and the way state and civic leaders talk about the Sculpture Garden—“Minneapolis’s crown jewel,” “a community treasure,” “a civic icon”—you’d think they spend a lot of time thinking about it.
But they don’t. Not really.
Since 2009, the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board have been trying to convince the state legislature to approve funds for a much-needed $8.5 million renovation of the Sculpture Garden’s deteriorating infrastructure. The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization pledged $1.5 million to deal with water-related issues of the project, but requests for the remaining $7 million have been consistently denied.
So, instead of celebrating the quarter-century mark in all its refurbished glory—which was the original plan—the Sculpture Garden will host its visitors this summer showing clear signs of age and neglect. The stairs are worn and uneven; the hedges and trees are dying; the pond around Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry is an algae and scum factory; and the ground is so compacted that, after any decent rainstorm, the lawn and paths add a dozen or more lakes to the state total.
The renovation would fix all of these problems and update the Sculpture Garden’s infrastructure to make it more ecologically sustainable and cheaper to maintain. The Cowles Conservatory, which houses Frank Gehry’s popular Standing Glass Fish sculpture, would also receive a new, energy-friendly HVAC system, making it possible for high-school girls in skimpy prom dresses to dance there sans sweaters for generations to come.
As the Sculpture Garden’s 25th anniversary gets under way, yet another funding request is being submitted, and the legislature has until May 20 to decide if the project is worthy. (Because the city of Minneapolis technically owns the Sculpture Garden, the city’s park and recreation board must submit the $7 million request, and it’s part of the bonding bill because the project involves only the Sculpture Garden’s nuts-and-bolts infrastructure, not any of the art or sculptures.)
According to Christopher Stevens, the Walker Art Center’s chief of advancement, Gov. Dayton and several influential legislators are “strongly supportive of the request,” and he is hopeful that this may be the year, what with all the anniversary attention in influential magazines and other, lesser media.
Unfortunately, we’ve been here before, many times. Everyone is always “very supportive” of the Sculpture Garden, until they’re not. But it’s embarrassing to watch legislators react to this extraordinarily modest bonding request as if the red in our state’s favorite cherry symbolizes some kind of commie-liberal plot to turn patriotic Americans into namby-pamby art lovers. At this point, the cherry’s gleaming red symbolizes only one thing: our collective shame that in its finest hour, our “crown jewel” needs so much buffing and polishing.