Walker Art Center Responds to the National Coalition Against Censorship
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Walker Art Center Responds to the National Coalition Against Censorship

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, as seen from the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge. Photo: Paul Schmelzer

While I greatly admire and stand behind the vital work of the NCAC and its mission to promote freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression, I challenge the NCAC’s position questioning the collective determinations made between artist Sam Durant, Dakota elders, the Walker Art Center, and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board around the final disposition of Durant’s sculpture, Scaffold.

From my perspective, suggesting that the jointly-agreed-upon dismantling of Scaffold might constitute censorship is factually flawed. It avoids opportunities for examining nuance and specificity to questions surrounding the factors that might constitute legitimate censorship.

Sam Durant has gone to great lengths to publicly convey that he in no way feels censored by the community or unsupported by the Walker. As he has stated, “I have learned from the Dakota people that Scaffold was not seen as a political work of art meant to reveal injustice, but instead as something real, a killing machine from a tragic past. As such, I felt I had taken something that did not belong to me, and I chose to return it to the rightful owners. Through the choice I made to physically transform the work toward productive dialogue, I do not feel censored at all.”

It is clear to me that the NCAC has not accepted the extraordinary context and circumstances that led to our mutually-agreed-upon decisions and actions, to which we remain committed with the benefit of time and further reflection.

Most importantly, Scaffold was intended to be a platform for visitors, for educators, for protestors, for citizens—a space for the public to use, adopt, and reject if it saw fit. Through its transformation from a material object to the realm of archive and oral history, this work continues to find meaning through the lives and actions of those involved in the process and by generating an important conversation.

I think the NCAC has placed undue emphasis on the work’s material structure over its concept. I firmly believe that the work has been repurposed within our community. Our responses as artists and arts institutions to such challenging incidents must be as nuanced, complex, and nimble as the situations and their histories necessitate. I stand behind the decision and hope it leads to continued dialogue about art’s potential to change and to inspire change.

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