“An open letter from the original artists of the 10th Street Mural
September 19, 2023
By Amber Hansen, Reyna Hernandez & Darcy Millette
Sioux Falls, SD
There are many aspects surrounding the state of the arts throughout South Dakota that should be a cause for concern, but for the sake of this article, we will speak specifically to the state of Public Art and the city of Sioux Falls.
Based on our experience as the original artists chosen to paint the 10th Street Parking Ramp Mural, we’ve reflected on the process and would like to highlight some of the structural transgressions that we encountered:
– There is no clear or transparent process that outlines how artists are selected to create art for public buildings in the city of Sioux Falls.Public art on city owned property in Sioux Falls is presided over and controlled by the mayor. The mayor’s office has complete authority to approve or deny what art is displayed in public spaces. Simply put: One person has the power to define the arts culture in a major part of Sioux Falls and to dictate the cultural value of art based on how “instagramable” and “non-controversial” he considers the art to be.
– The Visual Arts Commission (a commission created by the mayor’s office) has no real sway when it comes to the art decisions in Sioux Falls and is seemingly in place for the sake of optics.
– Artists should be fairly compensated for their work. Low wages set an unsustainable precedent for working artists.
Sioux Falls Art and the 10th Street Parking Ramp
In the fall of 2022, the Sioux Falls Arts Council (SFAC) in partnership with the City of Sioux Falls and the Visual Arts Commission (VAC) released a request for qualifications (RFQ) inviting artists to apply for an opportunity to create a new mural on the side of the 10th Street parking garage.
Three finalists would be selected and given an honorarium to create a design for the parking garage. Once the Sioux Falls Arts Council and the Visual Arts Commission reached a consensus and selected the design, it would be presented to the mayor for approval.
The Sioux Falls Arts Council and the Visual Arts Commission unanimously selected a design created by three local artists. The design was sent to the mayor for approval. After reviewing the design, the mayor dismissed the design chosen by the SFAC and the VAC and selected another artist from the group of finalists and began working towards approving the other design. At this point the mayor began an entirely new selection process without input from SFAC or the VAC (despite the fact that the Visual Arts Commission is a committee of people that his own office appointed). When we were notified by the Sioux Falls Arts Council that the mayor had rejected our design, we requested a meeting with the mayor’s office or a written explanation as to why they would not be moving forward with our design. We were denied any such correspondence.
Due to the violation of the previously set protocol of the selection process, the Sioux Falls Arts Council decided to halt participation on the mural project. The project funder, Marketbeat, also decided to withhold their donation. The city then released a statement that the project had simply “run out of time” and that there would be no new mural, citing that a consensus could not be reached on the design. In reality, the mural was stalled because the mayor didn’t agree with the Sioux Falls Arts Council and Visual Arts Commission’s design selection and thus attempted to override the process, in an effort that wasted time and resources.
What’s Happening Now:
In August of 2023, the mayor hand-picked an artist for the parking garage who used Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to create the design. The move required approval from the Sioux Falls Arts Council and the Visual Arts Commission. The new mural design was presented during a meeting without informing the attendants that they would be voting on this new design.
As A.I. generated content becomes a new threat to artists and their creative livelihoods (i.e. SAG-AFTRA strikes and amongst visual artists across the globe) the mayor has essentially organized a mural created using controversial A.I. generated imagery without input from the qualified artists and professionals on his team (the SFAC and VAC). Additionally, he has chosen an artist who agreed to paint the entirety of the nearly fourteen-thousand square foot wall for a lump sum of $30,000. That is $2.14 per square foot. We assume the artist is also responsible for covering the cost of materials. Considering that muralists are generally paid $20-$50 per square foot, it’s worth mentioning that the distribution of labor and wages for this project sets an unrealistic precedent that artists can work for extremely low wages.
In addition to undermining processes and promoting questionable, if not potentially unethical methods of designing art for public spaces, mayor Tenhaken is now in the process of dismantling the Visual Arts Commission by creating a new arts commission in his vision; a commission comprised of business owners, engineers, financers and fewer artists.
We do not know the mayor’s reasoning behind rejecting our design as he refused our request to discuss the project. We did not receive any correspondence from him or his office throughout the process. Due to this lack of communication we can only speculate on his subjective view of our design so, we would like to take this time to remain focused on sharing our experience concerning the violations of process carried out by the mayor’s office and the amount of control that he has over the arts & culture of the city of Sioux Falls.
Sioux Falls should have a clear and transparent process for deciding public art on our city buildings and for selecting the new City Arts Coordinator. The Mayor should rely on the Sioux Falls Arts Council and Visual Arts Commission and likewise qualified people to make art based decisions that affect the public art landscape. The City should find ways to better support arts programs in Sioux Falls so they can help the arts and culture in our community thrive.”