Minneapolis/Loring Park Temporary AIDS Memorials
by Jack Becker

Date: 1998

Site: Loring Park, a prominently located park near downtown Minneapolis

Funding: $18,000 from the Jerome Foundation, $2000 from Mayfield Foundation founder Tom Vance

History & Description: When FORECAST Public Artworks first got involved as a facilitator of a memorial in Loring Park, we suggested trying a number of temporary ideas before making any decisions about what a permanent memorial should be. By testing the waters, and allowing ideas to play out in the short term, little expense, and little risk would be entrailed. We set out to learn what we could about planning such an effort, and obtain as much feedback and evaluation as we could about the temporary projects and their effect, their lessons. For the Loring Park "study," many factors contributed to a successful outcome: the setting, the community, the proximity to a diverse audience of visitors, to tourists, to school tour groups, to hospice volunteers, etc.

Five temporary memorials were exhibited simultaneously during fall 1998:

All images courtesy of Jack Becker
Mollie O'Connor's wrapped trees and a circle of violets received mixed reactions, primarily because it lacked an explanatory sign, yet many folks got it. (Some, in fact, thought it was too morbid because of the red color). Some felt it copied Christo and his wrapping projects. Some couldn't connect the poetry spiraling around each wrapped trunk with the total message of commemorating or remembering. The trees were an instant landmark, a designated space within the park where one could contemplate a mix of concepts. And after a major storm downed one of the trees, it laid amidst the celebratory Gay Pride booths, resulting in a poignant metaphor, and a reminder that nature truly has the final say.

The "slate circle" installed for the weekend of Pride Fest was well received. Created by the team of Kevin Johnson, Anne Sugnet, Christine Baeumler, and Mark Knierem, it was a large simple circular plaza of broken slate tablets in a level grass area near the Loring Cafe side of the park, set off to the side of the festival, in a less-trafficked area. A pile of stones in the center and a tablet informed viewers of the numbers affected by AIDS (5,632). Viewers could pick up a stone from the pile and place it on the ground, on a slate shard, on the grass, and thereby remember someone. This same artist team divided their funds into two and also produced an event during the Loring Park rededication on September 12, 1998. Using almost 1,000 small wooden rafts, with candles set in the middle and surrounded by paper sconces (each one created to honor or remember someone lost to AIDS), the team spent all day preparing the rafts and adding the sconces. At dusk, after carefully testing the wind directions, the rafts were carried around the far side of the lake by scores of helpers, and each candle was lit. Set into the lake, the floating lights moved slowly about the large pond, until it became dark and gravitated into the smaller pond, finally encircling the small island with rafts. A small crowd of over 100 witnessed the event, and many lingered to watch the lights fade.

The Nest installation by Duluth artist Ann Klefstad featured a small grove of saplings on a knoll in the northeast corner of the park behind the Ole Bull statue. One of the trees was leafless, cast in bronze. Viewers couldn't be sure whether it was living unless they touched it, and then the message of the piece was revealed. A nearby sand pit surrounded by tall grasses suggested the title, and a backdrop of linen lent the installation a sense of enclosure and intimacy. The responses were again mixed here, with many commenting that the trees alone made the piece work and it didn't need the other elements.

Marjorie Pitz's "Sacred Circle" sits on top of the rise in the south-east portion of the park near Willow Street, where it holds a majestic stance. Eight utility poles form the circle (almost 30 feet across) are set in the ground, leaning inward toward their center, each covered in a thickly woven coat of willow saplings. Each "tree" in the circle represents a segment of the community affected by AIDS (needle users, parents, friends, gay and lesbian, children, etc.). This piece-originally scheduled for removal November 15-was very well received. Following a request by the artist, the Sacred Circle was allowed by the Park Board to remain on site until next spring, so we will have the advantage of seeing it covered in snow. The artist hopes to find a permanent home for the sculpture following its removal in May, 1999.

The Pink Umbrellas installation, sponsored by Absolut Vodka and the Design Industry Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA), immediately preceded the first FORECAST-sponsored project, giving us a leg up in the process. Approximately 300 umbrellas toured the country, going to San Francisco, Boston, Phoenix, Houston, and New York. Several of them were customized by artists along the way. In Loring Park, the installation lost some of its impact due to the large scale and openness of the site, and received moderate attention. A smaller site, where the umbrellas appear to fill it up, would give it a greater visual impact.

The lessons are still being learned from these "test" projects. As demonstration projects, they provide a great deal of information about the potential relationship between a memorial work of art and the Loring Park environment. The data has been collected, and each artists' evaluations are being transcribed with comments obtained via on-site surveys and focus group meetings. They will be assembled in a report that will be forwarded to the AIDS Memorial planning committee and the Jerome Foundation in January, 1999.

AIDS Memorials - Index

Key West AIDS Memorial
Minneapolis/Loring Park
New Jersey
AIDS Monument 2000
National AIDS Memorial
National AIDS Memorial Grove
The Garden (Proposal)
Toronto AIDS Memorial
NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt