Minneapolis in search of gold standard for bronzes

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 13, 2012 - 11:15 PM

Mpls. is tepid about taking over decisions on who or what gets statues.

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A statue of actress Mary Tyler Moore stands at the corner on Nicollet Mall that she made famous in the 1970s with the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which aired for seven years and won three Emmies.

Photo: Ben Garvin, New York Times

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In Minneapolis, the road to bronze immortality runs straight through City Hall.

City public works staff approve permits for private memorials or tributes to notable people installed on public land -- such as bronze likenesses of actress Mary Tyler Moore and columnist Sid Hartman -- with input from an arts commission. But an effort is underway to give the City Council responsibility for what people or events should get a monument on public property.

"We have the policies whereby we decide whether to accept a gift or [approve] a permit," said Mary Altman, the city's public arts administrator. "But we don't have policies that talk about who decides who gets memorialized or what is memorialized."

The city Arts Commission's Public Art Advisory Panel drafted a policy that was presented to a city planning panel Thursday night. Altman said she will soon show it to several department heads and council members.

In addition to giving the council "responsibility for determining whether persons or events are deemed significant enough to merit a memorial or tribute," the policy also requires them to seek input from appropriate city commissions and boards. Here is a sampling of the judgment criteria:

• "Has the person(s) or event made a substantial historical, social, cultural or economic impact upon the city, state, country or cultural community within the city? Do they represent the city's highest ideals?"

• "Will the memorial or tribute have timeless qualities and make a statement of significance to future generations?"

• "Is the memorial or tribute consistent with the city's Preservation Plan and other plans?"

• "Is the memorial or tribute unique? (Multiple memorials or tributes for similar groups are discouraged.)"

The policy states that memorial statues should generally be "larger than life," or about 115 percent of life size. Memorials should be for people who have been dead for at least three years, or events that took place at least three years ago.

"It ... is really an important civic discussion: Who should we pay tribute to in the city?" Altman said.

The initial reaction from the council was not enthusiastic. Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy said she has not seen the proposal, but these issues tend to be "remarkably controversial."

Council Member Lisa Goodman said it was "like taking a political football and tossing it from one team to another."

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper

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