Discovering Minneapolis Through Public Art

From the opera houses that filled the city in the 1800s to Prince’s Paisley Park recording studios, Minneapolis has a long history of being a hub for culture and creativity in the Midwest. As one of the country’s largest markets for live theater and home to some of the largest museums in the United States, you don’t have to look very far to find examples of Minneapolis’s artistic legacy. Best of all, you don’t even have to pay admission to a museum or buy a theater ticket to experience it, either.

Minneapolis is full of public art installations which celebrate the city’s history, culture, and residents. With sculptures such as Ole Bull in Loring Park dating back to 1896, public art is a Minneapolis tradition nearly as old as the city itself. Public art remains an important part of the city landscape with sculptures, murals, fountains, and even artist-designed manhole covers and drinking fountains making it a more vibrant place to live and work.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Image: Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Burggen / Walkerart.org

With so much public art to explore, it can take a long time to see it all. A great starting point would be the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a 19-acre park near the Walker Art Center which features 40 permanent installations, some by very prominent artists, as well as other sculptures which are displayed temporarily. Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Burggen serves as the garden’s centerpiece while Frank Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish sculpture, found in the Cowles Conservatory, is another very popular attraction.

Loring Park

Image: Berger Fountain / Flickr / Photo by Marcus Metropolis

The Berger Fountain, also often referred to as the Dandelion Fountain, is one of Minneapolis’s most distinctive fountains and can be found in Loring Park near the Walker Art Center. Although it’s now generally appreciated for its quirky and playful style, the fountain was actually the subject of fierce debate in the community when Ben Berger, a local businessman and park board member, offered to make a gift of the fountain. Berger had seen a similar fountain during a trip to Sydney, Australia and wanted to give one just like it to the city of Minneapolis. However, the placement of the fountain proved to be very contentious, with the Walker Art Center objecting to it being so close to them because they felt it looked like something that belonged in front of a hotel. Berger initially made his offer in August of 1969 and it took until August 1975 before the fountain was finally dedicated.

Lyndale Park

Image: Phelps Fountain / Photo by William Wessen / Wikimedia Commons

Lyndale Park, located just a few miles away from Loring Park, is home to two of the city’s other famous fountains. The Phelps Fountain was constructed in 1915 by Charles S. Wells, who also created the carvings for St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. However, Lyndale Park wasn’t the original location for the fountain. Initially, it was placed in Gateway Park, but was later moved to Lyndale Park when Gateway Park was demolished in 1963.

Image: 1947 Heffelfinger Fountain Dedication / Minneapolis Park History

The park’s other notable fountain, the Heffelfinger Fountain, also wasn’t originally located in the park. The Heffelfinger Fountain dates back to the 17th century, making it the oldest fountain in the Minneapolis park system. In the 1920s, Frank Totton Heffelfinger saw the fountain while visiting the Villa Montalto in Italy and loved it so much that he purchased it. But once he returned home, he didn’t know what to do with it, so he just kept it until the 1940s when he decided to donate it (along with $8,000 for the cost of installation) to the Board of Park Commissioners. The Heffelfinger fountain was dedicated in 1947.

Minnehaha Trail

Image: Cottontail on the Trail by Jeffrey Barber / Sculptures in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

On the Minnehaha Trail, a little southeast of Lyndale Park near Minnehaha Parkway and Portland Avenue, is a large bronze rabbit sculpture known as Cottontail on the Trail. Created in 2002 by Jeffrey Barber, it may not have an extensive history like some of the other art installations around Minneapolis do, but it has become a very beloved part of the community for children and adults alike. Cottontail on the Trail is delightful to visit at any time of the year, but depending on when you see it, you may see it decorated with some seasonal accessories, such as Easter eggs in the springtime or a scarf in the winter.

Minneapolis Metro Transit System

Image: (Im)migration by Nancy Blum / metrotransit.org

When using the MetroTransit system to get around town, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see art along the way. The MetroTransit system strongly believes in using public art to inspire visitors and each of their Blue Line and Green Line stations features artwork inspired by the neighborhood surrounding it. For example, the brick archway by the U.S. Bank Stadium Station reflects the immigrant groups that originally settled in the area, while the mesh screens and stainless steel etchings of birds at the West Bank Station represent the birds that use the Mississippi River as a migratory path. As you head from station to station, it’s easy to learn about the region just by admiring the artwork.

Hennepin County Libraries

Image: Sectio Aurea / PolyVision

The Hennepin County Library system also has a strong commitment to displaying public art in their 41 branches throughout the city of Minneapolis and its suburbs. With their One Percent for Art policy, 1% of the budget for any building project of $1 million or more is spent on selecting and acquiring public art.

One of their most recent additions can be found at the Brooklyn Park branch location. Sectio Aurea, is a lenticular mural consisting of 331 unique CeramicSteel panels. Viewers are able to discover two pieces of vibrant, interactive artwork. Walk through the space in one direction and the images seen are global — fingerprints, world art, ancient fossils, spiraling galaxies. Turn around at the end and walk back the other way and the topics are local — indigenous plants, Hmong embroidery, biomedical imaging, Mississippi River eddy currents. The mural is prominently placed at the front interior fascia of the library, where it can be viewed from both outside and inside the building.

Minneapolis is home to over 300 public art installations and these are just a few of the most notable ones. To find more pieces of art and see where they’re located, the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board created an interactive online guide to artwork around the city to help visitors and residents alike enjoy the artwork around them.