Feeling snowballed by the ins and outs of Minneapolis's public-art policy, we decided to talk to the artists who will be responsible for turning prefab objects into postmodern sculpture. We called Ta-coumba Aiken, a well-known public muralist and self-described "people's artist," who has managed to color inside the lines on both a Snoopy and a Charlie Brown ("my favorite was Charliemagne," he notes). For a counterpoint, we contacted Amy Toscani, a sculptor who helped her friend "slap some paint" on a Charlie Brown once but hasn't drawn a Snoopy check herself. Aiken promotes the event, maintaining that artists "can make a buck and get their names out there." (The sponsorship fee for each SnowMN is $3,600 to $7,000. Artists make around $1,000 for working on a statue.) Toscani argues that "we're dumbing down the appetite for Twin Cities contemporary sculpture to a first-grade level."
To foster this debate, we asked these amiable artists Important Questions like the following:
City Pages: How can you rage against the machine here? An anatomically correct SnowMN?
Ta-coumba Aiken: Well, you do three designs, and a board makes sure they're appropriate. You know, they didn't want them near bars. The Schulz family didn't want any Lucys with whips and chains. It would be unfortunate if parents had to say, "Oops, don't look at that one. Ohmigod, I didn't know that was on the other side!"
Amy Toscani: I heard for the Cows on Parade in New York, an artist cut off its head and stuck it up its butt. [Laughs.] But then they wouldn't show it. And on the call sheet for Lucy, it said you can't defame her.
CP: Is there a stigma attached to doing one of these? Will there be a HUAC that names names someday?
Aiken: No. There may be some snobbery from the people that don't do it. But they'll do it the next year. Between that and cleaning toilets, I'll do the Charlie Brown. And I don't do it outside of my artform. My pieces look like my paintings.
Toscani: I don't know many artists that have done that kind of work. But when I first saw the call for artists, I was like, "Whoa, easy money." Then I saw them. And now I'm kind of saddened. I feel like when you say you're a sculptor, now the vast majority thinks of Charlie Brown and Mary Tyler Moore. And now all the money is in this mass-appeal stupid sculpture.
City Pages: Do we really need more white people in downtown Minneapolis?
Aiken: I look at the SnowMN as the perfect blank canvas. Artists have so much time on their hands with cabin fever in the winter, some people will be able to be really clever with it.
Toscani: God, enough whiteys in Minnesota!
Having probed the soul of the artist, we moved on to the cool and rational perspective of the expert. Dr. Lisa Zotterelli, an Idaho State University sociologist, is currently conducting a research project on what she calls "Temporary Public Art." She provided a little history to start things off. Though it feels that Snoopys and their ilk have been with us forever, evidently Cows on Parade was launched in 1998 in Zurich, Switzerland. A year later, this invasive species crept over to Chicago. Today, 82 communities have held some form of the event, ranging from horses in Lexington to turtles in Tampa (one turtle was painted by a dolphin!). Despite the epidemic pace of proliferation, Dr. Zotterelli doesn't consider the phenomenon a mere fad. "Some fads, like Beanie Babies or pet rocks, don't have any social worth," she says. "But this seems to be a useful product fad. Like a cell phone. Cell phones started out as a fad. Computers started out as a fad. But they became more permanent in our society because they become an indispensable, useful product."
Meaning what? That soon we'll all keep a video-wired fiberglass ostrich on the lawn to watch our children? What's the practical application of the SnowMN? "There's a movement to get art on the street," Zotterelli says.
"There are fine-art themes that flow through these sculptures. An homage to artists like Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh is recurring. And there is historical reference and social commentary, too. It serves a purpose for social cohesion and community building. More so than some of the art in our galleries. The fact that people are responding and interacting and debating--that's important. It gets people thinking about things that they might not otherwise."
To finish her point about interacting with public art, Zotterelli talks about "spontaneous poop." "People would create these other art objects--cow dung and horse dung--behind the animals," she says. "The cows would be on the sidewalk, and people would create art behind it." Like the SnowMN or not, Minneapolis, here's a warning: This winter, look out for yellow snow.
If this art truly is interactive, what would be the consequences for, well...modifying a public SnowMN without the express written consent of Frosty, Tivoli Too, and Taco Bell? "Clearly the charge would be damage to property, but there's no specific language in the law that applies to artwork," says Pete Cahill, Chief Deputy County Attorney for Hennepin County. And whether it's a felony, gross misdemeanor, or misdemeanor is based on the financial amount of damage as measured by cost of the repair or fair market value if it's destroyed. So this is when it gets difficult. If its value is destroyed, what would be its fair market value? We probably wouldn't have a felony there--most of them would be misdemeanors if they come through."