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Painting over the Prince tribute sparks graffiti discussion

An unidentified person painted a tribute to Prince shortly after the musician's death last week. It has since been covered up after the city received complaints. (photo by John R. Russett)

What do Prince, President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Donald Trump have in common? All have been the subjects of murals the city of Red Wing has painted over on Barn Bluff.

Policy dictates that the bluff’s mural-de-jour must be painted over, regardless of content, if the city receives a complaint about it.

Most recently, the policy was employed to paint over a purple Prince symbol, along with the years of his birth and death, that appeared on the bluff face shortly after the Minnesota artist’s death last week. By Monday, the mural had been painted over with redaction-style blocks.  By Tuesday morning, “1999” had been scrawled over the black paint along with a peace sign.

“I surely didn’t think it was offensive, I grew up with Prince, and I get it,” City Council President Dean Hove said at Monday’s meeting. “I wasn’t real pleased either when I heard about (the cover-up), but I understand the city’s policy. It needed to get done because that’s what we’ve been doing; we answer complaints, and then it gets taken down.”

So far, the decision to cover the tribute has generated a collectively negative response. During public comments at the meeting, Red Wing resident Joe Gibart expressed frustration over the city’s “hasty decision” to cover the tribute.

“I feel that the bluff has been a tradition in this town longer than I’ve been alive and longer than most everyone here has been alive,” Gibart told the council. “I don’t think the city or anyone else should have any involvement in painting over it; it’s always been self-regulatory.”

Gibart described hiking up the bluff with a friend to paint over a confederate flag mural.

“There have been a lot worse things that have been painted up there that city never bothered to cover up,” he said. “But a tribute to a great Minnesota artist that impacted a lot of people’s lives was painted over and I don’t think it’s OK.”

By Tuesday, the bluff sported “1999” in tribute to Prince.

City Planning Director Brian Peterson said Public Work’s Barn Bluff master plan will address the issue of bluff graffiti. He hopes to conduct a public session on the issue with the planning commission, tentatively scheduled for this summer.

City Administrator Kay Kuhlmann said that city employees have limited decision-making power regarding the content of the bluff paintings.

“I think it’s easy to say when there’s a swastika up there that it should come down, but when it comes to other things, who gets to make that decision?” Kuhlmann said at the meeting. “We’re talking about the policy because we agree it’s time to have a public discussion about what should be on the bluff. Then the council can reset the policy, but until we have that discussion, we have to do what we’ve done over the years.”

The public is invited to talk about the policy and learn about the Barn Bluff master plan at 6 p.m. Thursday May 12 in the Red Wing Public Library.

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