City of Saint Paul announces public artists for Highland Bridge Development

SAINT PAUL – The City of Saint Paul and Public Art Saint Paul today announced that the public art commission for the Highland Bridge development has been awarded to two Saint Paul based artists. Marlena Myles and Rory Wakemup were chosen unanimously by the Highland Bridge Artist Selection Committee, beating out a field of 170 applicants from across the U.S. They will work as a collaborative team on a multi-faceted project that will be created and installed within Uŋči Makȟa (Grandmother Earth) Park at Highland Bridge in 2022.

“Public art is vital in creating welcoming and inclusive spaces across our community,” said Mayor Carter. “As we continue developing Highland Bridge, we look forward to engaging Marlena and Rory to bring to life the history of this land, and the stories of the Dakota people.”

The artists’ proposal includes a complex and beautiful environment with the working title of The Story of Creation. It includes a sculpture, murals and augmented reality components that will picture Dakota concepts and designs, and a related website on Dakota creation stories. The selection committee appreciated that the artists’ project and placement would invite park users to discover new things, to learn, and to share the site with friends and family in the spectacular setting near the Mississippi River.

“This proposal compellingly weaves together the past, present, and future—with their references to Dakota stories and beliefs that have been part of this land and culture for hundreds of years paired with the augmented reality that can be accessed on cell phones to present images in the landscape using cutting-edge technology, said Colleen Sheehy, Executive Director of Public Art Saint Paul, who managed the artist call and artist selection process. “The artists’ ideas will expand the ways we think about our shared public spaces and what art can do there.”

“Every day we walk on these lands that hold the complex histories, connections, and understandings of Dakota people,” said Marlena Myles, newly named public co-artist for the Highland Bridge project. “I look forward to creating new artworks that honor the significance to our homelands and pass on the teachings of Uŋči Makȟa to the future generations. I’m thankful for this opportunity.”

The public art commission for $146,000 comes from the City of Saint Paul’s Public Art Ordinance which is supported by a 1% allotment from capital improvement bonds for all construction projects.

“I am delighted for the community to honor, experience, and reflect the Dakota origin teachings through sculptural, visual, and virtual reality art installations,” said Councilmember Chris Tolbert. “With water flowing from Uŋči Makȟa Park to nearby Bdote, this art installation will further the connection and understanding of the Dakota creation story for all. In addition to thanking the artists for their public art proposal, I also want to recognize the dedicated volunteers that served on the Artist Selection Committee.”

About Marlena Myles
Marlena Myles (she/her) is a self-taught Native American (Spirit Lake Dakota/Mohegan/Muscogee) artist based in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her art brings modernity to indigenous history, languages and oral traditions. Growing up on her traditional Dakota homelands here in the Twin Cities, she enjoys using her artwork to teach Minnesotans of all backgrounds the indigenous history of this place we call home. Her professional work includes children’s books, fabrics, animations and fine art in galleries such as the Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Museum of Russian Art, Red Cloud Heritage Center and the Minnesota Museum of American Art to name a few. Her first permanent site-specific augmented reality public art installation known as the Dakota Spirit Walk is available on the Revelo AR app. In 2021, she opened her own Dakota publishing company called Wíyouŋkihipi (We Are Capable) Productions to create a wider platform that educates and honors the culture, language and history of Dakota people.

About Rory Wakemup
Rory Wakemup is a Native American (Bois Forte Band of MN Chippewa tribe) artist, activist and community organizer. He holds an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Rory uses his artistic talents for community engagement and social justice. Among his accolades was a full page spread in the Star Tribune in 2016 for his “Smart Wars” performance at the Minneapolis American Indian Center on Indigenous People’s Day, and his collaboration with Cannupa Hanska Luger being awarded Best Art Event of 2016 by First American Art Magazine. He is the sole proprietor of Wakemup Productions, whose mission is to celebrate Native American people through art in the 21st century. Rory served as Gallery Director for All My Relations Arts Gallery in Minneapolis from 2016 to 2019.

About Highland Bridge
Highland Bridge (formerly known as the “Ford Site”) is 135 acres of land along the Mississippi River and the former home of Ford Motor Companies’ Twin Cities Assembly Plant. After closure, the City of Saint Paul and multiple partners spent a decade engaging with the community, studying environmental impacts and approving a final plan for the site’s redevelopment. Ryan Companies, as master developer of the site, is executing the City’s plan of a new connected, livable, mixed-use neighborhood with clean technologies and high-quality design for energy, buildings, and infrastructure. It will be woven into the existing community; support walking, biking, and transit; and provide services, jobs, and activities that every generation can enjoy.