Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds’ BUILDING MINNESOTA was on view on the West River Parkway in Minneapolis between the Third Avenue Bridge and Portland Avenue in conjunction with CLAIM YOUR COLOR (March 4-May 9, 1990), an exhibition at the Walker Art Center featuring the artist’s work. In his site-specific public work, Heap of Birds appropriates official signage and uses his own words to remind viewers of the lost history of that place. Each of the 38 signs that comprise BUILDING MINNESOTA recognizes a member of the Dakota tribe who was hanged at the end of the United States-Dakota Conflict of 1862. Heap of Birds chose this location for a number of reasons – here the Mississippi River is both blocked from access by a chain link fence and harnessed to create power for a number of nearby grain processing mills. He felt this location represented changes of the river from a spiritual and life-giving resource for the Dakota people to a place associated with the economics of trade managed by the white settlers who named this stretch of the river’s bank “The Grain Belt.”
As the land along the Parkway is owned by the Minneapolis Park Board, this commission demanded close cooperation between the City Council and the Walker. The Park Board donated the signs and the labor, and the Walker arranged for young adults to help the artist place the signs. In the commissioning contract, the artist retained the copyright to the commission and ownership of one complete set of signs (two sets were made in case of theft, vandalism, or loss) and the Walker reserved three signs for its permanent collection. While CLAIM YOUR COLOR came down in early May 1990, the Minneapolis Park Board agreed to keep BUILDING MINNESOTA on site through the first week of September.