$10,000 could feed a lot of homeless people. It could help provide support for underfunded police departments. It could go towards helping veterans combat post traumatic stress.
Instead, it went to a painting showing the police as Nazis and President Trump groping a woman.
Here’s the deal.
The painting was made by Anishinaable artist Jim Denomie. It’s meant to depict the 2016 protests over the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota.
In the painting, Native American protestors are seen holding peaceful signs on one side of a fiery river.
On the other side are police with “attack dogs” (as described by local media), military vehicles and a water cannon.
One of the vehicles displays a swastika. In the meantime, KKK members are standing behind the police and a caricature of President Donald is seen groping a woman.
Here’s why so many people are ripping mad. That piece of “art” was paid for by taxpayers.
In 2018, the artist was given a $10,000 grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to fund the work. It’s now proudly on display at the Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis after a run at Mankato State University.
Republican State Representative Josh Heintzeman called it “repulsive” and said the Arts Board should not fund projects like this.
“People create all kinds of things all the time that are highly controversial, but when it comes to taxpayer money, that’s a different question,” Heintzeman said in an interview. “The taxpayer, should they be on the hook for this?”
Here’s a shocker. The Executive Director for the Arts Board, Sue Gens, disagreed.
“Our goal really is to try to provide broad opportunities for funding, so that maybe every Minnesotan can find something that speaks to them,” Gens said.
Where’d the money come from? Two separate sources: $5,625 from the National Endowment for the Arts and $4,375 from the state’s general fund, Gens said. According to Gens, the project did not receive any funding directly from state sales tax under Minnesota’s legacy amendment that voters approved in 2008.
Here’s how the process works. Each year, some 4,500 applicants put in submissions to the Arts Board for grants. An average of 2,200 get funded, based on criteria such as how an audience will engage with the art and if the project and timeline are realistic.
“We’re really proud of the fact that we’re asking Minnesotans how they would like their arts dollars to be invested,” Gens said.
On his application, Denomie asked for $10,000 – the maximum amount available under the state’s Artist Initiative grant. He got it.
Denomie told local media he saw the Standing Rock protests as “history in the making,” and compared them to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, during which U.S. soldiers killed as many as 300 Native Americans in South Dakota.
As far as using a swastika and Klansmen?
“I used these symbols to bring to mind incidents when police have used racial profiling or deadly force against unarmed people of color. It felt to me that maybe some of this behavior was present during events at Standing Rock,” Denomie said.
Heintzeman said the local sheriff thought the artwork was offensive to police. He said he’s not calling for the state to censor art, but would prefer seeing state dollars go to positive work.
“There’s lots of opportunities for these dollars to be used. We’re turning away lots of projects,” he said. “I’m guessing there was probably a pretty good direction we could’ve gone with this particular $10,000 appropriation.”
Gens said the Arts Board doesn’t ask grant applicants about their political ideology.
“When you think about all the different viewpoints and all the different perspectives there are in Minnesota, for a state agency to pick some of those viewpoints and say, it’s all right to have art that reflects these viewpoints but not these, I think would really create a problem,” she said.
The artist of course believes the state should continue funding art that criticizes the government because it’s part of the democratic process.
“I invent creative ways to express this information in hopes that people will stop and think about that history and those events,” he said.
Just a couple of weeks ago, debate raged over a handmade, Thin Blue Line Flag that was hung in an Officer Down Memorial Tunnel in Connecticut. Democrats demanded it be removed. The tribute to fallen officers had been made by a fellow police officer.
Apparently THAT was offensive. But a tax-payer funded painting portraying police as Nazis? That’s apparently ok.