McKnight Foundation names 2010 Artist of the Year


Emerson’s Parlor, 2005 by Siah Armajani

Image courtesy of

The McKnight Foundation has named Minnesota-based sculptor Siah Armajani as the 2010 McKnight Distinguished Artist.

The award, which includes $50,000, recognizes individual Minnesota artists who have made significant contributions to the quality of the state’s cultural life.

Locally, Armajani is best known for the bridge he designed joining the Walker Art Center’s sculpture garden to Loring Park.


The Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, built by Siah Armajani in 1988

Image courtesy of the Walker Art Center

Inspired by architecture and democratic ideals, Armajani has created footbridges, benches, reading rooms and gazebos which serve the public worldwide. Many of them are imprinted with text.

Born in Tehran in 1939, Armajani moved to the United States in 1969, and graduated from Macalester College in 1963. He lives and works in Minneapolis. Armajani is notoriously shy, refraining from interviews with the media, and public appearances

“Siah Armajani is one of Minnesota’s great assets, an ambassador to the world,” says Kate Wolford, president of The McKnight Foundation, “One fundamental role of great art is to help us interpret and understand our world. Never shying away from reality as he sees it, Siah shines a spotlight on life’s challenges and inequities. He unites humankind’s hardest truths with the optimism that we can do better, if we acknowledge and understand the bridges that brought us here.”

While we agree that Siah Armajani is a high profile international artist based in Minnesota, the arts and culture unit at Minnesota Public Radio is scratching its collective head over the McKnight Award. Has Armajani made a “significant contribution to the quality of the state’s cultural life?”

What do you think?

  • I remember reading in “What is Art” that Tolstoy felt that art is a bridge – a means of connecting groups and individuals with divine, individual inspiration. In that context, he could take a nod, but there are several other deserving local candidates. Who else was considered?

  • Tammeron Jonesfrancis

    I am confounded at the suggestion that the writers of this announcement are compelled to scratch their collective heads with the naming of Siah Armajani for this award.

    Maybe we will find an itch there because this is so late in coming?

    Armajani has contributed to the Minneapolis and St. Paul environments with some of the most thoughtful and innovative work in the area since perhaps the cloud-scraper of Leroy S. Buffington. It is the rare artist who, like Mr. Armajani, develops challenging work and has a strong understanding of cultural history, which makes his work worth our attention. As for his Minnesota credentials, what can be more Minnesotan than rethinking the skyway which has been the basis a significant number of his local and international works.

    Armajani has contributed to Minnesota not only with works of art but also as a teacher. He has been an inspiring teacher both at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and to the many young artists and architects who have worked for him within his studio.

    In regard to his “shyness,” Armajani’s work is oriented towards the public realm. This is what all of his bridges, benches and drawings address on some level. On the other hand, do people who contribute ‘things’ to public environments need to be public performers as well?

    If you want a fifty foot fiberglass walleye you still might ask Siah Armajani … that could do with a bit re-thinking as well.