In the early days of SculptureWalk it was kind of a free for all with how the program was rolled out, the jurying process, etc., it has come to full fruition and is a wonderful addition to our community, but it took a lot of massaging to get to that place. I went back and forth with board members on how artists were selected and the jurying process, and guess what, many of the changes I suggested were made (a few years after I made them 🙂 but ultimately they got it right.

But who can forget the famous council meeting where the councilors couldn’t decide if the plaque of Munson at the entrance to Falls Park was ‘art’. I literally thought that Quen Be was going to have a nervous breakdown.

Or who can forget if a rendition of a famous Jean Dubuffet painting on the side of Black Sheep Coffee was advertising or not (it is actually a painting of jazz musicians in New Orleans). Local artist at the time Eyob Mergia, who created the mural, was perplexed that people would think it was an ad for coffee. The real clincher was the owner of Black Sheep didn’t get a permit, and we know how that goes . . . and like the AI controversy, some artists in the community berated Mergia for copying the painting and not creating his own piece.

Eyob was no stranger to controversy when it came to public art. Besides the coffee shop, there was the $100,000 mural that then Minnehaha County Commissioner Carol Twedt tried to secure funding for (that went over like a lead balloon) and who can forget the ‘large painting’ he donated to the Horse Barn Arts Center. Then Parks Director, Mike Cooper said it was NOT a mural because it was not directly painted on the building and called it a ‘large painting’ to get out of the mural review process (the city is famous for breaking it’s own rules).

And who would deny the Statue of David as our leading controversial art project. First rejected when he arrived, then thrown in a storage lot a few years later and when he returned his marble mount had mysteriously disappeared (and his underwear are still missing).

Some have wondered for years why we struggle with public art in Sioux Falls. I’m sure a massive study could be done (and has been done several times). The recommendations are usually thrown in a wood chipper like a dead mount at the zoo.

Besides the lack of transparency and a real cultural understanding of public art the main reason we struggle with public art in Sioux Falls is because of Conservatism. No new boards, full-time coordinators or public/private partnerships will solve this problem.

UPDATE: It is pretty obvious to me that the Bunker Ramp mural artist has a bigger objective. I have a good professional artist friend who used to live in Sioux Falls and still does gobs of work here. He figured out long ago to get your foot in the door is to donate a couple pieces here and couple of pieces there, and the floodgates will open for you. He told me recently he has so much work here now he has considered moving back.

The mural artist who created the Bunker Ramp mural, Walter Portz, first donated his time to create a mural at the Levitt (Sioux Steel District) and has still been working on smaller pieces for the place. He moved onto doing the Bunker Ramp mural for pennies on the dollar. After expenses I would assume Walter took in about $20K of the $30K for the mural. For a mural this size, it is bargain basement prices (normally an original piece like that would go far north of $100K).

Fast forward to the recent BID tax district the Sioux Steel project received for public amentaties including public art and I would assume Portz is angling to do some of that art.

Good for him!

This is how you get your projects funded. Do I agree with the process? Hell NO! But that is how it works in Sioux Falls. If you are a talented artist that can follow thru, you just need to play a few reindeer games.

Personally I will just keep selling my crappy $25 dollar paintings and dream that one day I will get to paint over another city f’up.

2 Thoughts on “UPDATE: City of Sioux Falls has long history of flubbing public art

  1. Fear & Loathing in Sioux Falls on September 26, 2023 at 7:02 pm said:

    The Bunker Ramp is a work of art. It symbolizes the modern struggle between truth versus dare. It should be entitled: Debacle. Where the coldness of its concrete structure symbolizes the hardened tyranny of a few upon many, while it’s holes of air follow symbolize the hope of freedom or release from the oppression of the concrete encasing, which itself is vulnerable, however, to a quake of reality, or should we say economic uncertainty, that would crumble not only its hold, but also the dreams of the opposed within it. Together, these two worlds, the controller and the controlled, are together bonded by the debacle of a few who in their collapsing also entomb the many, the people, the unjustly imprisoned to which no mural can correct or lay fancy…. What a darkened debacle it is…. But, yet, what a great artistic example of the ultimate debacle laid before our eyes and hopefully not “someday” before our feet….

  2. If we are playing long ball, the City would open a new competition for a permanent install & require whoever develops the site to incorporate it into the final design.

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