OPINION

Hoffman: UMN Crookston Kiehle Auditorium committee looking into murals

UMN Crookston Vice Chancellor John Hoffman
UMN Crookston

Earlier this year, I convened a committee of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and representatives from Tribal Nations in the region to vet options and propose recommendations to address concerning aspects of the Socha murals in Kiehle auditorium and further explore options to showcase the rich history, knowledge and advancement of indigeneous people of the Northern Plains.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Federal Art Project, a part of the Works Progress Administration, provided work relief for artists. One of the projects was the murals installed in Kiehle Auditorium. The murals were a gift from the Northwest School of Agriculture’s class of 1932, officially unveiled 79 years ago on November 7, 1942. The artist, John Martin Socha, was a graduate of the University of Minnesota.

I acknowledge the significance of the Socha murals, notably the content of the lower panels of the murals that artistically celebrate the values of hard work, free enterprise, and invention as well as the importance of the agricultural industry to the region. However, the prominent panels to the upper left and right of the auditorium stage include imagery that is problematic. The large left-hand panel portrays the arrival of Europeans with a sword drawn foreshadowing war and conquest to come. The panel to the right portrays the Old Crossing Treaty signing in which Ojibwe people ceded over 11 million acres of land to the United States. The treaty signing followed some of the darkest moments in Minnesota history including the Dakota Conflict, the largest mass execution in U.S. history, and executive orders authorizing bounties for Indian scalps.

As noted on our website, we recognize the murals are an example of how the histories, lived experiences, and contributions of Indigenous people and people of color in the U.S. have been overlooked, silenced, and oppressed. Further, Kiehle auditorium is not a museum-like area that members of our campus community can avoid. Classes and major campus events compel students and members of our community to go into the auditorium. For this reason, UMN Crookston is exploring options for how to address the murals. The murals committee referenced above vetted a wide range of alternatives and proposed recommendations for senior leadership within the University of Minnesota.  In the coming weeks, there will be opportunities for our campus community to provide input and share feedback regarding the murals.

John Hoffman - Vice Chancellor University of Minnesota Crookston