RED WING, Minn. (KMSP) - For decades, Barns Bluff in Red Wing, Minn. has been a popular canvas for local artists to share their work, for graduating classes to show school pride, and most recently, a painted tribute to late music icon, Prince. That is, until the city painted over it. The city offered a fine explanation, but the artist has since returned to repaint the spot.
At Monday night’s city council meeting, a disgruntled resident helped prompt the city to hold a special May 12 meeting to set a standard procedure for how the city handles art on the bluff.
Council administrator Kay Kuhlmann acknowledged art on the bluff is typically benign, and it is city policy to paint over it only when the city receives a complaint. Kuhlmann said someone called in, claiming to be offended by the Prince symbol, so when it stopped raining, city workers painted over it. And that's exactly what they'll do until their May public meeting to potentially revise that policy.
"The City Council confirmed at the April 25 Council meeting that until the public meeting process is complete and a policy is approved by City Council, the current policy will be followed," the city said in a news release.
Joe Gibart and Brian Paton don’t consider themselves artists. The longtime friends say they’re simply participants in a Red Wing tradition. And, like everyone else, they’re saddened by the loss of Minnesota native and international superstar, Prince.
Gibart says it was Thursday afternoon when their friend Bill Hanisch contacted them about doing a tribute to the late superstar.
“I think the text was, ‘you guys know what needs to be done’ and that was paint a tribute up on the bluff,” said Hanisch.
By the next morning, Prince’s purple symbol had taken the place of a big ‘16’ that was presumably painted by seniors at the local high school.
Hanisch, owner of a local bakery and community watering hole, says the response was fantastic, as the constantly changing mural on Barn Bluff is a popular visual in downtown Red Wing.
“When people come into Red Wing--when they drive down Main Street--the first thing they always look at--I do it every day--it’s what’s on the bluff.”
But by Monday, the city had painted over the purple symbol with black paint, claiming they had received a complaint of its offensiveness.
“The decision to paint over it was two people over ruling the majority of town who loved it,” said Gibart. “Our pretty little Red Wing had a giant black cloud hanging over it.”
The pair, who originally wanted to remain anonymous, were so inspired by the community outrage that they revealed their involvement, expressing their concerns at Monday’s city council meeting.
“I don’t think the city realized exactly what the bluff means. And what Prince means,” said Hanisch who became a loud voice in this fight.
By Wednesday night, there was such a loud cry for the Prince tribute to be repainted that Gibart and Paton returned to Barn Bluff.
“We saw that a council member had posted on Facebook asking someone to go paint the bluff and that’s all we needed,” said Gibart.
Thursday afternoon, only hours after completing their second tribute, Gibart’s photo of their latest work was shared 1,800 times.
Paton says they hope the city reconsiders their actions on Barn Bluff after this, as he wants the space to remain a place for expression.