It wasn’t just another stroll in the park.
On a beautiful weekend, visitors flocked to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden while protests continued over the death of George Floyd.
“I wanted to get out into the sun and relax with all the riots and stuff going on,” Shawna Daly of Minneapolis said last Saturday as she examined a patch of wild plants. “I just need a calm place to relax.”
Visits to the Sculpture Garden and Franconia Sculpture Park near Taylors Falls, Minn., have spiked since museums and galleries in the Twin Cities closed in mid-March — tripling that month compared with the year before. Outdoor sculpture parks offer a way to see art while also social-distancing and providing a mental break from the COVID-19 crisis.
On Saturday morning, Megan Schmit and Papa Diop of Minneapolis took a seat on a pair of white lawn chairs facing Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s iconic “Spoonbridge and Cherry” at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
“I don’t know if we came so much for the art as for the sunshine,” said Schmit. “There might be a few pieces we haven’t seen before.”
Because of the coronavirus closing everything, Diop agreed that “there’s not much else to do.”
Daly said she originally wanted to stop by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, but that destination — which also offers outdoor art — is seeing a surge in visitors, too, and all of its tickets for the day were gone. “This is one place you can go that doesn’t need a reservation,” Daly said.
Other visitors ended up at the Sculpture Garden by chance. Jacob Huff, Josh Dillingham and Ryan Wynn of Chicago happened to book a trip to the Twin Cities the previous Monday, just before Floyd’s death.
“We couldn’t get our money back from the Airbnb, so it was like ‘All right, we’re gonna come anyway,’ ” said Huff, who went to the University of Minnesota and wanted to show his friends around the city.
The three guys were on bikes and ended up at “Spoonbridge.”
“We are a fan of the fine arts,” said Huff. “They don’t have stuff like this in Chicago — they have the big bean, the Lincoln monument, but not a specific park like Minneapolis.”
Franconia, a free, 43-acre park northeast of the Twin Cities, is good for a day-trip getaway. The park features more than 100 sculptures in a rural setting, many made by artist residents at the park. (Because of coronavirus, Franconia plans to continue the summer residency at half-capacity, phasing in residents and keeping them socially distant.)
Last Saturday, Deyvon Long of North Branch, Minn., and Laura Soulbrack of Burnsville walked down the dirt path that outlines the perimeter of the park. They were on a weekend-long date and decided to catch some art en route to a hike in Stillwater.
“For our first date I took him to a small art gallery, and so everywhere we’ve gone we try to find art,” said Soulbrack.
They stood gazing at “Bodies Left Behind,” a giant sculpture by Iranian-born, Minneapolis-based artists Pedram Baldari and Nooshin Hakim Javadi, made of several airplane wings hanging from a dome-like structure that referenced border crossing. The couple felt like being able to come to the sculpture park was a good compromise, since museums weren’t open.
“The art here is more interactive, whereas at a museum it’s more visual,” said Long.
Franconia is taking advantage of its outdoor space to program live events throughout the summer, including a sculpture workshop Saturday afternoon and a film screening after sunset that night (“Kusama: Infinity,” about Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama).
The park also provides space for kids to roam.
Nine-year-old Layla Soto swung from the yellow bars on “Infinite Play,” a topsy-turvy ladder with a whimsical, tilted twist by artist Risa Puno. Leyla, her dad, Oscar Soto, and her sister stopped by the sculpture park instead of going hiking. The art reminded her of the jungle gym at school.
Friends Julie Stoltman of Hopkins and Ivy Balcer of Rockford stood in front of artist Bayeté Ross Smith’s “Got the Power: Minnesota,” one installment in a series of site-specific towers of now-obsolete cassette players and boomboxes that questions who controls imagery in a global society.
Stoltman isn’t a huge art person, but the sculpture made her curious.
“You walk up to this and it’s nostalgia,” said Stoltman. “It turns on a memory.”
The friends ended up at Franconia on the way back from a hike. With so much closed due to the coronavirus, everyone is figuring out more creative ways to spend their time.
“You have to reconnect in different ways,” said Balcer. “You have to experience different things now.”