Image by Damon Farber Landscape Architects

Park Board looks to support memorial for sexual violence survivors

Updated: May 11, 2018 - 1:05 pm

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is considering directing funds to a memorial in Northeast Minneapolis recognizing survivors of sexual violence.

Members of Break the Silence, a local group of survivors and allies, is looking for the Park Board for public support of the memorial, which is being proposed for Boom Island Park.

Commissioners voted 5–4 Feb. 21, narrowly passing a resolution directing staff to explore funding options. While the resolution didn’t specify an amount or areas to pull the money from, the group has thrown out a figure of $160,000, roughly matching the funds that have been committed so far.

Commissioner Chris Meyer, whose District 1 includes the site, said the project would provide a “space for reflection and rehabilitation for people who have been victims.”

Sarah Super, the group’s organizer, said the memorial, the first of its kind in the country, would be especially important given the #MeToo movement and recent investigations into high-profile stories of sexual violence.

“The memorial concept holds true to what we have seen nationally, that when survivors tell their stories they unconsciously give other survivors permission to tell theirs,” she told the board.

Super said the group has committed donations of about $177,000. The current budget is roughly $480,000, significantly more than the preliminary $400,000 price tag proposed last year.

Commissioners Jono Cowgill (District 4), Steffanie Musich (District 5), LaTrisha Vetaw and Meg Forney (both at-large) voted against the resolution. Several said the park system is not in a position to cover the funds of another group’s project.

Musich said the board struggles to repair wading pools, add air conditioning to its recreation centers and maintain its other memorials in the city. The board has already stepped up to provide “very valuable” riverfront parkland for the project, she added.

“We have a lot of other projects in the docket that I’d consider very essential infrastructure projects that we don’t have sufficient funds to implement,” she told commissioners. “I don’t know what we say to everyone else that wants us to be maintaining what we already have.”

Commissioners voiced support for the project, but several, including Forney and Vetaw — who noted they are survivors of sexual violence — said the group should explore a broader fundraising effort before looking to the Park Board.

“I want to make sure that as a board we do what we can do, not necessarily what my heart says I can do,” Vetaw said.

Park staff will come back to commissioners in early March with ways to support the memorial. Assistant Superintendent of Planning Michael Schroeder said they’ve been working with Break the Silence since last summer, when the board first approved a concept design.

“It’s a good project. Sarah has provided a beautiful design that would fit really well within this part of Boom Island Park,” he said. “Staff is supportive, but we need to provide the board with the fuller picture of how this could come together. Right now, we don’t have that.”

Several unanswered questions remain with the memorial, from a clear price tag to what an agreement would look like between the Park Board and Break the Silence. Schroeder said the board has spent a couple million dollars on reshaping portions of Boom Island Park and much of that work was due to contaminated soil.

“We don’t know what exists in the area,” he said.

Schroeder said there are sources of funds out there, and staff may recommend Break the Silence pursue grants for additional funding. Schroeder stressed that the memorial will not take funding from the board’s other capital projects.

The partnership that would likely come forward, he said, is a donation agreement where the group would donate the memorial to the Park Board. This is a similar exchange that will happen with the Loppet Foundation and the Trailhead, an outdoor recreation center the nonprofit is building at Theodore Wirth Regional Park.

It may not even be legal for the board to spend public dollars on the project, according to the board’s legal counsel. A state statue stipulates that public funds can only fund memorials that honor war veterans and other soldiers.