Some new work in the Sculpture Garden is truly deep

The pond with 'Spoonbridge and Cherry' has been fixed and a cistern added.
The Minneapolis Park Board's Dana Murdoch and the Walker Art Center's David Galligan discuss the length of a sidewalk beside the rebuilt pond, which is part of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's "Spoonbridge and Cherry."
Euan Kerr | MPR News

Amid the excitement and controversy around its recent reopening, you may have missed some of the biggest changes at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. While millions of dollars' worth of art was added to the garden, the impetus for the renovation was how the park deals with water.

"It is essentially, historically, a marshland," she said. "Drainage was difficult, and some of the plantings that were made may not have been appropriate for the ecosystem that the specific area really wants to be."

The Park Board owns the land on which the Sculpture Garden stands, and is responsible for its upkeep. The Walker Art Center owns the art and is responsible for selection and upkeep of the sculptures.

An estimated 8.5 million visitors have walked around the park since it opened in the 1980s.

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A meadow of native plants and grasses will take some time to grow.
The water meadow at the north end of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is expected to take three years to reach maturity, but is already growing in.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

"It's a lot of feet, it's a lot of feet on the ground, on the pavement, on the grass," Murdoch said. "In and around the trees and all the other plantings. So we have to stay on top of that. And that was part of the design here, was to bring in landscape elements that could stand that a little bit better."

The renovation work on the garden cost $10 million. That included a lot of work on accessibility to bring it up to code under the Americans with Disabilities Act. New, broader walkways and ramps instead of steps are clearly visible. But a lot of work, especially that to do with drainage, is harder to see.

People familiar with the garden's crowd-pleasing "Spoonbridge and Cherry" may well notice something a little different. The pond looks bigger. Walker senior curator Siri Engberg said that's almost right.

"Many people don't know that the pond is part of the artwork," she said. "It is shaped in the form of a linden seed, and over the years there had been a significant amount of erosion to the edges that really defined that pond shape."

In fact, the pond had actually moved. The renovation restored the original shape and added a liner that will help retain the water, including the gentle spray from the cherry stem. However, the Park Board's Dana Murdoch said that's not the biggest change to "Spoonbridge."

"That fountain runs 24/7 during the summer. So any of the overflow flows underground into an 80,000-gallon cistern," she said. "And the water sits there for less than a day because then in the wee hours of the morning all the irrigation will come on ... and irrigate the garden itself, the whole thing, plus a portion of Parade Field, right next door, the baseball field."

The 80,000-gallon cistern is buried close to the iconic sculpture.
An 80,000-gallon cistern, paid for by a grant from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, lies close to the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry. It was under construction Oct. 17, 2016.
Courtesy Mississippi Watershed Management

The massive cistern is buried just to the east of "Spoonbridge." It also gathers and recirculates rainwater. The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, which works with seven metro cities on water-quality issues, gave a $1.5 million grant for the irrigation system. Executive director Doug Snyder said the initiative fits well with his organization's work to improve the quality and reduce the quantity of storm runoff that ends up in the Mississippi.

"Through models, we have calculated that over the course of a year we will be able to save about 4.7 million gallons of potable water out of that system and then reapply that back onto the land," Snyder said.

While visitors won't see the cistern, Snyder said, there will be educational signs explaining how it works. He hopes it will encourage people to change their ideas about storm water.

"What we are saying is, hey, this is a resource," he said. "Why not look at it in a way that says it's free water? Let's collect it and reuse it on site."

Another part of the storm water management is the restoration of that historic marshland. Three large sculptures — including "Hahn/Cock," the new blue rooster — standing on raised pads at the north end of the garden will be surrounded by a water meadow filled with indigenous plants. Murdoch said the area has only just been planted.

"It can take ... up to three years to have it really come in full and flush," she said.

But even by the end of this season, she said, the water meadow will already be adding to the splendor of the garden.