Two separate murals are proposed for elementary schools in West St. Paul, though the projects may require ordinance changes and coincide with a city council conversation about public art policy. The agenda for Monday’s City Council meeting includes a discussion on public art vision and policies.
Charlton Tunnel Mural
The first proposed mural project is a partnership between Garlough Environmental Magnet School, Dodge Nature Center, and Dakota County to create a mural in the Charlton Tunnel. The tunnel, part of the River-to-River Greenway trail, connects Dodge Nature Center with Garlough and is used by students at least twice per month with their ‘Walk From School’ initiative. The mural would be a collaboration between an artist and Garlough students.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our students and staff,” Garlough Principal Sue Powell said. “I believe this project will be a powerful project for school pride and students will feel an ownership for the beauty of the tunnel.”
Dakota County, which owns and maintains the tunnel, released a “request for qualifications” earlier this week, outlining the proposed project and asking interested artists to submit a letter of intent by the end of February. Finalists would then be selected to create detailed proposals with a final proposal chosen in April. Priority is given to artists who live in Dakota County or are connected to Dakota County in a “meaningful way.”
The project budget is $40,000 to $50,000 and comes from the Dakota County Public Art Citizen Advisory Committee and a Dakota County fund for Greenway enhancement. Project design would happen in the spring with installation in the fall.
The project is also designed to serve as a pilot project for future murals throughout the Dakota County trail system.
A second mural is proposed at Moreland Arts & Health Sciences Magnet School. The Moreland Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is spearheading the project and hopes to partner with Good Space Murals, a Minneapolis studio focused on public art.
The mural would span the entire north wall of the building, overlooking the playground.
“This would be an unbelievably fantastic opportunity for Moreland and the greater community,” Moreland PTA Vice President Lindsay Bjerke said. “It provides a way to connect the diverse student body and families in a common project/goal, bringing us together to share our various backgrounds and reasons we love Moreland and our community.”
Artist-led classroom discussions would guide the direction of the mural with an approval process and a “painting party” to actually create the piece. The estimated cost is $50,000 and would be paid for by the Moreland PTA through fundraisers and grants.
Bjerke hopes they can begin fundraising this spring and be ready for the project as early as fall of 2022.
“In addition to the Moreland family, it also brings together the larger community outside the school,” Bejerke said. “Inviting them to come participate in and, later, enjoy this public art.”
But both mural projects likely run afoul of West St. Paul’s ordinances, which severely restrict murals. Last year West St. Paul made national headlines over a Black Lives Matter mural that violated city code and had to come down. City Council debated what to do, but ultimately cited public support for the existing ordinances.
On Monday, City Council will start a discussion about public art policy and potentially allowing more public art in the city during the Open Council Work Session. It’s the first step in a larger conversation with many complications, but could create a way forward for these two mural projects.
Allowing more public art would require ordinance changes and public hearings, so it would be a lengthy process with multiple opportunities for public input.
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