Michael Cimino - South Riverfront Mural
Michael Cimino - South Riverfront Mural

If you’ve spent any time driving around Mankato, you’re probably already familiar with the work of artist Michael Cimino. A contributing artist on the Mni Mural on the Minnesota River levee and the lead artist on the South Riverfront Mural (the pink and blue triangles), Cimino has been busy painting in public spaces.

Michael Cimino Mankato, MN
Photo by Don Lipps – Michael Cimino of St. Peter stands in front of his work on South Riverfront Drive in Mankato

If you’ve wondered, he’s glad to explain, “There’s no meaning behind the triangles. There’s no meaning behind the color. It’s just something to look at and say, ‘That’s different!’ There’s a lot of drabness in southern Minnesota in winter so when the council allowed me to pick the color pallet it was going to be as bright as possible.”

There’s no meaning behind the triangles. There’s no meaning behind the color. It’s just something to look at and say, ‘That’s different!’ Michael Cimino

The Path To Mural Painting

A formally trained artist with both a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Fine Arts, the journey to doing public murals in Mankato was something he stumbled upon rather than planned. “My mural career started when I moved to Saint Peter,” he recalled. “One of my good friends was a bartender at the Embassy. She said she’d like to see a mural on the side of the American Legion in Eagle Lake.

Lind Wall North High Mural
Photo by Michael Cimino – The Lind Wall located at Jenny Lind Elementery, in north Minneapolis. A community mural made with all the students in the school.

“I hadn’t painted in years and I had never done a mural before. I was like, why don’t we get the veterans to paint it and I’ll coordinate it.” He continued, “We went out on November 8th and it was hardly 50 degrees. We painted a 40-foot mural in 8 hours. We had twelve veterans out there, young dudes back from Iraq, and a couple of older guys. It was a great time. I loved it!”

Gaining Momentum

Things began to move quickly after the Eagle Lake mural. “Noelle Lawton with Twin Rivers Council For The Arts asked if I would like to be one of the artists on the crew working on the river levee mural,” he recalled. “I thought, I’m not a mural painter and I have never wanted to be a mural painter, but it was a means to my goal of making my living as an artist.”

Mural at Mankato Mankato Space
Photo by Michael Cimino – Mural at the Mankato Maker Space. An experiment using singular complex objects as the means to create a mandala.

The Politics of Art

It was on the Mni project that the details of public art began to appeal to him. “I first started learning about the politics of public art, the logistics and the showing up to City Council meetings,” Cimino recalled. “And the fundraising aspect. It was a $22,000 project. Learning about where the money was coming from and all the different business aspects… I fell in love with the process!”

Abstract Deer - Office Space Design, Mankato MN
Photo by Michael Cimino – Abstract Deer commissioned by Dain Fisher for Office Space Design

Getting involved in the political aspects of art led to other work. “It was at a city council meeting for the River Wall that I got the commission for the South Riverfront Mural, the blue and pink triangles,” Cimino related. “At another city council meeting where I just went to listen, I met Dain Fisher who commissioned me to do the mural on North Riverfront at the Minnesota Iron and Metal building.” The mural on the Minnesota Iron and Metal building is scheduled to be completed in spring or early summer of this year.

If people are engaged art has served its purpose Michael Cimino

Public Art

Cimino has grown into some strong opinions about art in general and public art in particular, “I had a bone to pick with every artist who has ever made art for themselves and expected everyone else to appreciate it. In mural arts you’re giving back to the community. Spending time in the studio and showing your artwork has some value but there’s more value in public art.”

Hubbard Building Mural
Photo by Michael Ciminio – Mural located in the basement of the Hubbard building, It’s an ambient piece for Dain Fisher’s new project, Mogwai Collaborative.

He’s not shy about stirring things up, “When we were doing the South Riverfront Wall we had to block one lane of traffic. People were honking and jeering. Some people were throwing things at us, but I love all of that!” He explained further, “If you’re going to do public art you’re going to get controversy. There are going to be people who don’t like what you make. If people are engaged art has served its purpose.”

Cimino has been amazed at how much opportunity the region has provided “I really love Mankato!” he said.

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