Council Chamber Art Project Artists

 Artists Selected For Council Chamber Art Project

Ramsey County Historical Society is pleased to announce the selection of four outstanding artists to create works of art to be displayed in the Council Chambers of Saint Paul City Hall – Ramsey County Courthouse.

Selected Artists

CLUES Latinx Mural Apprenticeship Project

The Latinx Mural Apprenticeship Project is a Saint Paul-based hands-on learning initiative, led by Aaron Johnson-Ortiz, and taught by him and five other teaching muralists leading a Latinx, multi-ethnic team of artists. The team will be creating a hands-on, collaborative, and community-centered outreach process that results in the creation of a Council Chambers artwork.

The main team members are:

Aaron Johnson-Ortiz is a Saint Paul-based Chicanx community-engaged artist whose multi-disciplinary work centers social justice and movement building. His “Workers United in Struggle” mural was named “Best Mural” by City Pages last year. He currently leads the art department at CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio), Minnesota’s largest Latinx organization. Earlier this month, he opened a new art gallery at CLUES’ Saint Paul headquarters — currently the only non-profit Latinx art gallery in Minnesota.

Long-time Saint Paul resident, artist, and mental healthcare worker Marina Castillo centers spiritual healing in all of her work. She led local mural and installation projects at the Minnesota History Center and Guadalupe Alternative Programs. Castillo is a prolific painter and collage artist, who has exhibited in Minnesota, California, and Iowa. Most recently, she had a solo exhibit at the local Wilder Foundation.

Originally from Mexico, Gustavo Lira has worked as a Minnesota muralist for almost 20 years. He was the lead Minnesota-based artist in the creation of the “Mosaic of the Americas,” the largest outdoor mosaic mural in the state. Some of his commissions are: Seward Co-Op, Plains Art Museum in North Dakota, Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, La Palma Supermarket in Saint Paul.

Zamara Cuyun is a Minneapolis-based painter whose work explores her indigenous family roots in Guatemala. A prolific painter, she explores Maya history and iconography, as well as colonization and resistance. She recently opened a solo exhibit at the Artistry MN gallery in Bloomington.

Emily Donovan

Emily Donovan is a Saint Paul resident who studied art history and visual art at the University of Minnesota with an emphasis on printmaking and painting. Her batik art relies on wax and handmade dyes made from foraged materials, local pigments, and natural plants. Emily is a recipient of Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grants in 2014 and 2019, and most recently completed her first artist residency in Cusco, Peru. She regularly volunteers in schools, teaching her natural dye process. Her award-winning work is shown nationally, in galleries and art centers. Her commissions include works for the Minnesota Vikings Eagan Hotel, the NE Minneapolis Library, and for a high-rise in Taipei, Taiwan.

Adam Swanson

Adam Swanson grew up in Ramsey County and currently lives in Cloquet, Minnesota on the Fond Du Lac Reservation. He is a muralist who works closely with city leaders, businesses and neighborhood residents, and his commissioned work includes Allete-Minnesota Power, The Superior Hiking Trail, the Minnesota Environmental Protection Agency, Bent Paddle Brewery, and murals in Mora, Chisholm, the MSP International Airport, and for Spirit Mountain Grand Chalet in Duluth, among others. Adam has shown his work nationally and internationally. He has had grant and artist residencies from organizations in Minnesota and world-wide, including South Africa, the Pacific Islands, Sweden and the Palmer Station in Antarctica.

Leah Yellowbird

Leah Yellowbird currently lives and works in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Leah is a lifelong Minnesota resident, and has worked with Native and non-Native communities across the state for her art projects.

Leah creates mixed-media pieces incorporating painting, beadwork, sculpture and fiber art, connected to her Anishinaabe heritage. She is also a muralist, and has created public art for Grand Rapids Arts, the Grand Rapids Area Library, Bemidji State University, the St. Louis County Government Services Center, and recently was commissioned to create a 50-foot mural for the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. She has received Minnesota State Arts Board Folk & Traditional Arts Grants in 2017 and for 2020, and other fellowships and awards.

Project Overview

The City of Saint Paul and Ramsey County requested that RCHS lead an effort to add new artwork to the Council Chambers of the Saint Paul City Hall – Ramsey County Courthouse. The goals for this project include commissioning new, original artwork that interprets the same overarching themes in the 83-year-old murals currently on display in the Council Chambers – celebrating the people and progress of Saint Paul and Ramsey County.  A total of four new pieces of art are being commissioned, with two new pieces displayed concurrently with original murals in the Council Chambers for a period of several months. The city and county will determine a rotation schedule that will ensure that each of the original murals and new pieces is exhibited over the course of a year. Interpretive panels will be added that provide additional context about the existing Norton murals as well as each of the new pieces.

Some of the artists selected for the project plan to pair their works with one of the four existing murals and use similar themes; others are taking a completely new approach to the overall theme.

The newly commissioned artwork will be completed by early April 2020 for installation in May 2020.

Process Overview

RCHS recruited a diverse task force of community members through an open application process to advise on the creation of a call for artists and selection of artists. Later in the project the Task Force will similarly advise on interpretive panels and the final recommendation from the task force to County Commissioners and City Council Members. The Task Force currently includes Tomas Leal, Betsy Mowry Voss, Colleen Sheehy, Elsa Vega Perez, Marilyn Burnett, Bob Parker, Olivia Mulvey Morawiecki, and Chad Roberts (chair).

Artists and teams of artists were invited to apply via a detailed call for artists that was widely distributed in several languages through print and online means. Prospective artists were invited to attend several open houses/tours of the Council Chamber to view the original artwork and the space. RCHS received 20 completed applications, these were reviewed and ranked by the Task Force and nine finalists were identified. Finalists were interviewed by the Task Force leading to the selection of the artists identified above. This was a highly competitive field of applicants.

Chad Roberts, President of the Ramsey County Historical Society explains “We were pleased to see the skill, commitment, and varied backgrounds of the twenty applicants for these commissions. In the end we had to pick only four artists or collectives and it was a difficult choice. The selected artists have identified a variety of approaches to this project that are inclusive and representative of our community today. We are honored to be working with these talented people and thank everyone who took the time to learn about the project and submit their applications”.

Artists are currently signing contracts and will begin work immediately. The task force will meet with each artist or artist team throughout the next few months as they work on their commissions. RCHS will also be holding two community meetings where artists and task force members can share progress and hear from the public. The first of these will be held Monday, December 16 at 7 pm at the East Side Freedom Library (1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul, MN 55106).

Over the next five months RCHS and the Task Force will develop interpretive panels and create online materials that provide more information on the existing and new art. Additional materials will be provided that articulate the wide variety of perspectives on the existing artwork and generally how discriminatory, controversial, or otherwise problematic public art from the past is addressed today. As this discussion continues to unfold here and around the country, there is value in recognizing and presenting these varied perspectives. RCHS is committed to ensuring that these varied views are explained well so that readers and visitors to the Council Chambers can form informed opinions regarding public art in our community.