Will citizens call the city's Bluff? Recommendations for Barn Bluff graffiti
Three boards and commissions were tasked with making a recommendation to the City Council regarding graffiti Barn Bluff. Specifically, on whether the city should permit the prominent display of graffiti which is visible from town. On Monday, June 25, the council reviewed the groups' final recommendations and made plans for the future.
The general consensus: No more painting the bluff.
For many years, dating back to about 1959, residents and graduating students have climbed the bluff to paint their graduation year or significant thoughts of the day. Though the park was deeded to the city in 1911 under strong terms that Barn Bluff not be defaced and Red Wing has its own graffiti ordinance to uphold, it has been customary to allow the painting and not prosecute the painters.
Only when residents complain about the imagery do Public Works employees go up the bluff to cover the artwork with a coat of white paint, incurring some cost for the city. Officials say it's difficult to pinpoint all of the calls for service to Barn Bluff — including 17 rescue missions since 2006 and 186 calls for police in the last 10 years — to determine if the graffiti site is a significant public safety issue. However, painters do stand on a thin ledge of the bluff and climb a ladder to reach the full height and width of the painting area.
Barn Bluff is a sacred site for the Dakota, as well. In fact, earlier this year, Prairie Island Indian Community nearly nominated the bluff to join the annual list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places curated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to help raise awareness for the loss of cultural significance at this site. The city has since begun working with tribal leaders to develop culturally appropriate signage on the bluff and develop the park as a natural and peaceful place.
The issue gained further significant because of an event in 2015. Following the death of Minnesota music star Prince, someone painted his symbol on the bluff in tribute. Public complaint forced its cover-up, and subsequently, "TRUMP" and a Russian flag were painted on the bluff, before a thin blue line on a white background (representing police) replaced it. The word "GRIT" has been on the bluff for about seven months as a memorial for local coach and school social worker Chris "Rodge" Rodgers, who died in November 2018. Brush in front of the painting, untamed by the painters, is beginning to cover the message.
The bluff's regular painters, including the class of 2018, have been inactive on the bluff since the city began to investigate the graffiti issue. Some painters have been engaged in public conversations to defend the practice, however, and City Council members believe they deserve at least one more chance to have a public forum so those for or against the issue can say their peace before the council makes its final decision.
After careful research and request for public comment, the Heritage Preservation Commission, Human Rights Commission and Advisory Planning Commission came to roughly the same conclusion, independently, that the painting on Barn Bluff should cease.
Though graffiti is present throughout the park at Barn Bluff, these groups were specifically tasked with addressing the large prominent graffiti on the bluff face visible from town. Council went to the groups for input on how the city should curb, move or permit the practice which.
Additionally, the Human Rights Commission recommended promoting an alternative location for such public discourse. The Advisory Planning Commission agreed in their recommendation, as "a way to honor the tradition and allow for creative expression."
"To me, I would need powerful arguments to sway me against our commissions' thoughtful process and their outcomes," Mayor Sean Dowse said.
"I'm comfortable with one more public hearing and then we've got to make a decision," Council member John Becker said. "That's why we're elected."
A public forum will be conducted for people to weigh in on this issue in the fall of 2018, date yet to be determined. Council will likely hold the meeting in September, once two of the three vacant council member positions have been filled by special election.
No matter the outcome, the council's decision is likely to stir local controversy.