The floodgates were opened this week for those creative types looking to make their mark on Minnesota history — as the commission tasked with redesigning the state flag and seal began officially soliciting entries from the public. Almost immediately, graphic design artists and longtime flag redesign activists took to social media to share that they’ve submitted their entries.
The 13-member body has been meeting weekly since the beginning of September with a statutorily required deadline to submit a final design for a new state seal and flag to the legislature by Jan. 1, 2024. And now it’s ready to wade through a number of entries that are likely to come from a wide-range of Minnesotans — from professional designers to long-time state flag redesign advocates to elementary school students.
The commission was formed via legislative declaration this summer after the DFL-controlled House and Senate passed an omnibus state government bill along party lines that included a controversial provision that aims to ditch the state’s official flag and seal in favor of a new design. The new statute instructs the commission to create designs that “accurately and respectfully reflect Minnesota’s shared history, resources, and diverse cultural communities.”
Those interested have the option to submit their state flag and/or seal entries electronically or via a mailed hard copy. The deadline for consideration is Oct. 30. That means the commission will have less than two months to review the entries, solicit public feedback and narrow the pool of designs down to five finalists. Commission members arrived at the number in a recent meeting where they also agreed to make sure they meet in person (so far meetings have been conducted via Zoom).
Commission will be watching closely the volume of entries it receives
Just how many people will submit designs for either a new state seal and/or flag is anybody’s guess. Although the current state flag and seal have similarities, it’s not required that they look the same or even feature similar themes.
Commission members acknowledged during their weekly meeting on Tuesday that they are likely to have their work cut out for them when they begin reviewing entries in November. (Past meetings can be viewed on YouTube.)
“We are still working on specifically how we would or could deliver those entries (for consideration of the commission),” said David Kelliher of the Minnesota Historical Society, who is helping the process with administrative support. “It’s really going to depend on how many entries there are, as it would be a different type of (review) activity if there were 200 entries (versus), say, 7,000. The volume coming in over the next month will determine that.”
Commissioners have agreed to meet in person as they begin reviewing entries next month. They plan to eventually narrow down submissions for both the state flag and seal to five finalists. They will then turn to the public for feedback. It’s likely those meetings will be held at the State Capitol, perhaps in the State Office Building committee hearing rooms, which can accommodate an audience and live-stream to the public.
Transparency in the review process discussed
But will the public get a chance to see those designs that didn’t make the cut?
That was a topic of discussion among commissioners.
“Should we only show the submissions that were based on the design criteria?” asked commission chair Luis Fitch, a graphic design and brand professional. “What do we do with those (entries) that do not pay attention to the criteria? What if they (contain) racist comments or (political) cartoons? Do we show those too? Or should we remove them (from consideration)?”
Commission vice chair Anita Gaul, a community college professor and former DFL legislative candidate, said she thought it would be a good idea to keep “all the submissions under wraps” until the commission selects its five finalists.
“There are gonna be people who are trolling this process who might intentionally submit something that is political statements,” Gaul said. “Let’s not even consider them.”
Several commissioners wondered if that was even possible, due to Data Practices Act requirements and a potential perceived lack of transparency.
“The concern I have is who is going to make those decisions about which entries don’t meet the criteria, and how is that going to be done,” said Sen. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, one of four legislators serving on the commission as non-voting members. “That would need to be figured out through a process of sorts before (an entry) was tossed.”
And should the public be able to provide input earlier in the review process, before the commission narrows the pool of entries to five final designs for the flag and seal?
Secretary of State Steve Simon thinks so.
“We could use guidance from the public, not just experts,” said Simon, a voting member of the commission. “I think it would be a big mistake for us to do the winnowing (down to five finalists) without any public input.”
The commission hopes to select five final designs for the flag and seal by mid-November, chair Luis Fitch said.
“From there, (professional) designers could help us finalize the work and put it to the public by the first or second week of December,” Fitch added.
Per the statute, designs to be considered for a new state flag and seal “must accurately and respectfully reflect Minnesota’s shared history, resources, and diverse cultural communities.”
“Symbols, emblems, or likenesses that represent only a single community or person, regardless of whether real or stylized, may not be included in a design. The commission may solicit and secure the voluntary service and aid of vexillologists and other persons who have either technical or artistic skill in flag construction and design, or the design of official seals, to assist in the work. The commission must also solicit public feedback and suggestions to inform its work.”
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.