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McKnight
Distinguished
Artist 2017

Seitu Ken Jones

During his wide-ranging career in painting, sculpture, set design, public works, and environmental architecture, Seitu Ken Jones has redefined public art from the ground up. He has embedded Minnesota’s stories in murals and civic infrastructure, cultivating the deep roots that connect art, nature, and neighborhoods.



TPT 's Minnesota Original piece featuring Seitu Jones. Airdate: September 2011

From storytelling murals as big as a city block, to concrete and metal motifs that run through Twin Cities light rail stations, Seitu Jones’ artistic vision is embedded in the cultural landscape Minnesotans encounter every day.

Over the course of 50 years, Jones served as the City of Minneapolis’s first-ever artist-in-residence, transported audiences with set designs for Penumbra Theatre and other stages, and even set the table for a diverse cast of 2,000 guests who came to break bread at "CREATE: The Community Meal," a half-mile-long public art installation designed to spark conversation about access to healthy food. 

A fixture in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood for more than 20 years, Jones has also been a guiding force behind the Frogtown Farm and other urban “greenlining” initiatives. He has helped seed a culture of creativity in one of the Twin Cities’ most diverse neighborhoods, fostering new intersections between nature, art, and civic infrastructure.

Jones, who grew up in north Minneapolis in the era of civil rights activism, says the Black Arts Movement of that time inspired the “themes of equity and hope” that are the common thread in his diverse multidisciplinary work. 

“Seitu Jones lives and breathes the idea of Beloved Community,” says Eleanor Savage, program director at the Jerome Foundation. “Seitu lovingly and joyfully launches us into new dimensions of humanity. Whether inviting us to come to the table or build a boat or listen to our ancestors or tend a neighborhood garden, Seitu’s naturally collaborative adventures inspire us to reach for new truths, pursue hidden magic, and open-wide our hearts to opportunities for understanding and grace.” 

As Jones explains, “I was a child of the '60s, and there’s one tenet I still hold to this day, and that is you should leave your community more beautiful than you found it. That is one of the guiding principles now in much of my work. I try to create large-scale work that inspires and informs.”

Read the press release.


About the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award: The annual $50,000 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award recognizes artists who have made a lifelong commitment to creating art that is locally, regionally, and/or nationally significant. These artists have chosen to make their lives and careers in Minnesota, thereby making our state a more culturally rich place. First and foremost, they have made creatively incisive art reflecting their particular and extraordinary point of view. McKnight Distinguished Artists have also inspired younger artists, attracted acclaim from audiences, patrons, critics, and other arts professionals, and some have founded and strengthened arts organizations. The goal of McKnight’s arts funding is to support working artists who create and contribute to vibrant communities. The program is founded on the belief that Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive.

Nominate someone for the Distinguished Artist award.