If you’re a person wanting to immigrate to America, what physical image springs to mind? If you are a tourist traveling to Paris, what icon is a “must visit”? When the city of St. Louis is portrayed in the media, what edifice is most frequently shown? Now, when you think of Minnesota, what structure comes to mind?
For the first three questions, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and the Gateway Arch likely top the list. For Minnesota? Perhaps, the Walker’s Spoonbridge and Cherry, the Split Rock Lighthouse, the St. Paul Cathedral, the State Capitol or, maybe, the Mall of America. My point is that there is no one definitive image.
Why is this important?
It’s important because Minnesota is now in a competitive battle for global talent and it lacks a brand — and brands benefit from creative, powerful symbols.
A group of creative and civic-minded entrepreneurs recently proposed that the state of Minnesota proudly accept our geographical location and embrace the title of “North” — as distinguished from the bland moniker of “Upper Midwest.”
I wholeheartedly embrace that idea, but I believe Minnesota should go further and create an iconic structure that represents our ideals and stands as a symbol to citizens around the world.
To would-be immigrants, the structure might say: “We want you and welcome your intellectual energy.” To would-be tourists, it might serve as a platform for viewing our region’s natural beauty. And to others, it could stand as a reminder of Minnesota’s rich history of innovation, industry and culture.
What would this artful and innovative icon look like? I don’t know, but I’m confident that somewhere in the mind an iconoclastic, brilliant or visionary architect is an idea so captivating it could, quite literally, put Minnesota on the world map.
To this end, I’d like to propose that the state sponsor a contest soliciting proposals from the world’s leading designers. A small, independent committee consisting of an architect, an artist, a historian and a long-standing civic leader could then select a winner.
Afterward, the difficult work of funding and building the structure would take place, but I’m confident it could be done, and I propose that it be completed by Dec. 31, 2022.
Why that date? Because Minnesota stands an excellent chance of landing the 2023 World Fair, and what better way of announcing our arrival on the global stage? (If the idea seems far-fetched, it’s worth recalling that the Eiffel Tower was built as the entrance arch for the 1889 World’s Fair.)
If Minnesota is as bold, innovative, creative, energetic and civic-minded as our ancestors, there is no reason that we, the current generation of Minnesotans, can’t build a structure that embodies our state’s motto — “L’ Etoile du Nord,” the Star of the North — and shines just as brightly, and guides future immigrants, travelers and explores to our region as steadfastly as the true North Star has done for millennia.
Jack Uldrich is a former director of the Office of Strategic Planning for the state of Minnesota and serves on the advisory committee for Expo 2023 Minnesota.