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Mural: Wičhóuŋčhaǧe

Wičhóuŋčhaǧe: Generations, The Growth of People

Marking the Phipps’ 40th anniversary with generous support from the Hugh J. Andersen Foundation, a new mural has taken shape on our Vine Street wall, celebrating the past, present, and future of the arts within the heart of the Phipps! Over the past year, artist Thomasina TopBear brought the new mural to life. TopBear is a self-taught artist, muralist, and published illustrator from the Oglala Lakota and Santee Dakhóta Nations. She is a board member of the international all-female paint crew Few & Far Women and co-founder of City Mischief Murals, a BIPOC artist collective centered on healing through art. Specializing in large-scale murals, her work can be seen on the sides of buildings throughout the country.

As part of the design process for the mural, TopBear wanted to understand what the arts mean to the Phipps community, and we launched an online and in-person survey last fall to find out. Some of the many wonderful responses to our questions included: “creative expression, art is education, art and music, performance, expression of the spirit, reflection of the world, inspiration, dance and community.” TopBear wove those responses into her final design which also incorporates aspects of her indigenous culture and the St. Croix landscape. In February, we brought together members of our community, young and old, to help paint parts of the mural alongside the artist, inviting them to leave their mark on the Phipps.

Over the course of a few weeks this May, TopBear completed painting and installed the mural on our north exterior wall. The design highlights the many arts disciplines that have their home at the Phipps: theater, music, dance, and visual arts. The central circular image features a dancer and two hands holding up a growing tree, surrounded by a sweetgrass braid. TopBear says, “The idea behind the rooted tree is that we are not the roots, our past generations are, and we are not the branches or leaves, our children are. We are in the middle; if we can help it grow, we have a beautiful future together.”

The design harmonizes many significant elements. In Dakhóta culture, sweetgrass is a sacred plant and symbolizes healing and peace. The butterflies that take flight from the main image represent migration and transition and draw attention to the threatened state of monarchs in our habitat. The river flows throughout and breaks the frame, grounding the entire image in this place that the Phipps calls home, on the banks of the St. Croix River.

Thomasina TopBear has compellingly titled the work, Wičhóuŋčhaǧe (wee-choh ee-chah-gh-hay): Generations, The Growth of People, using both the Dakhóta word and its English counterpart. TopBear says, “As we all continue to grow and make a better world for our future on the Dakhóta ancestral homeland that we all share, I felt that Wičhóuŋčhaǧe was the best name for this piece. It means, ‘Generations, The Growth of People.’ The folks I met along this journey at the Phipps, who uphold the community, have been so proud of this place and how the arts have impacted their lives. My hope is that this inspires the artist that is dormant in all of us, at any age, to create and make change for the greater good of all of our communities. The Phipps Center for the Arts has been the learning and creativity mecca of this beautiful area for the last 40 years, it was my honor to create this piece in celebration of it. Wóphida/Gratitude!”

We are incredibly grateful for Thomasina TopBear’s vision and talent in making this beautiful mural a reality. Thank you to the Hugh J. Andersen Foundation who made this mural possible through their generous support. Come experience Wičhóuŋčhaǧe: Generations, The Growth of People for yourself, next time you visit the Phipps!