Dedication of Joan and Walter Mondale Commons Celebrates the Arts in Public Policy

April 6, 2018
Walter Mondale stands behind a podium and speaks in the Joan and Walter Mondale Commons
Former Vice President Walter Mondale speaks at the dedication of the Humphrey School's newly named Joan and Walter Mondale Commons, April 5, 2018. Photo: Bruce Silcox

With a quick tug of a ribbon, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ central meeting space was dedicated as the Joan and Walter Mondale Commons at a celebratory event April 5.

The evening, which also included a panel discussion exploring the connection between art and public policy, was a tribute to Joan and Walter Mondale’s commitment and enthusiasm for public service for more than 50 years. 

The Mondales’ two sons, Ted and William, did the honors during the dedication ceremony, releasing a large bow to reveal the new Mondale Commons name, displayed in large letters on the wall above the floor of the three-story atrium.

Walter Mondale held several elective offices during his career, culminating in serving as U.S. vice president, while Joan Mondale was a champion of the arts and an ambassador for cultural diplomacy. She died in 2014.

Watch video of the dedication ceremony

“I’m so glad we’re doing something to remember Joan,” said Mondale in his remarks. “She was my partner and she always supported me, but deep down she also had something else to say. And that was about the arts and the relationship of the arts to public life. That is so beautifully reflected in the dedication of this space today.”

Representatives of the Guthrie Theater, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art led a lively discussion on that topic, exploring ways that arts organizations are inspiring communities to think about issues of race, politics, and culture that are on the minds of Minnesotans and Americans today.

Four panelists sit in chairs onstage in the Humphrey School auditorium
Panelists discuss the arts and public policy at the dedication
event. Photo: Bruce Silcox

"Global frameworks live within the communities in Minnesota,” said Carra Martinez, the Guthrie’s director of community engagement. “We need to give audiences richer material that represents the different life experiences of the people who live in Minnesota." 

Martinez said the Guthrie is taking steps to focus more on equity, diversity, and inclusion through its programming. She notes that the current season features such plays as “Familiar,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and “An Enemy of the People,” that deal head on with those topics.

"If we make our audiences uncomfortable, then we have succeeded. An important part of the theater arts is making people uncomfortable," Martinez said.

The discussion also touched on how the arts can be a means of promoting understanding across cultures. Roderick Cox, associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, said the ensemble’s 2015 tour in Cuba and its upcoming visit to South Africa this summer are examples of how sharing music can strengthen ties between countries.

As part of the Humphrey School’s recognition of the Mondales, the School has installed a display case featuring a collection of Joan Mondale’s pottery. 

“It will remind us of the importance of the arts and beauty in our lives, and of the remarkably effective diplomatic work that Joan and Walter Mondale collectively shared with the world,” said Dean Laura Bloomberg. 

 The renaming also honors the numerous ways that Walter Mondale contributes to the Humphrey School and his commitment to helping train the next generation of public servants. Mondale is a member of the dean’s advisory council, led a $2 million fundraising campaign for student scholarships, and has taught a course on the U.S. Constitution and national security at the School for nearly 15 years.