Minnesota State Fair visitors walking south on Cooper St. towards Dan Patch Ave. won’t miss it: a giant, colorful new mural representing workers.

The mural was commissioned by the Minnesota AFL-CIO for the north wall of the state labor federation’s Labor Pavilion. “Recent renovations at the fairgrounds have exposed the building’s north-facing wall,” Minnesota AFL-CIO president Bill McCarthy explained in a fundraising letter to labor leaders. “This newly available space presents an opportunity to further Labor’s visibility at the fair.”

“A mural this size is always a bit challenging. It’s 13-feet high by 50-60 feet long,” said Matt Wells, one of the five artists working on the mural.

The artists are part of Rogue Citizen, a Minneapolis-based collective. The founding group of four artists first met years ago while they were working as security guards and were members of SEIU Local 26. “We have a long history with Local 26,” Wells said, designing posters and other graphics for the Minneapolis-based union of janitorial workers, security guards, airport workers and window washers.

In the 10 years since founding Rogue Citizen, the four artists have gone on to other jobs but they’ve continued to create art not only for SEIU Local 26 but also for SEIU locals across the country and for SEIU’s international convention.

The mural at the Labor Pavilion features six giant images of workers, who generally might be recognized as a construction worker, a teacher, a factory worker, a medical worker, a chef, a postal employee.

Given the scale of the images — and working with cans of spray paint — “it’s hard… to get the figures to have the right expression and nuance,” said Wells, who designed the mural with some direction from Minnesota AFL-CIO staff.

“For me, the challenge in designing it is to really convey… a positive feeling,” Wells said. “The figures have to have a sense of power and perhaps of confidence.”

“Some of that power comes across just from the scale,” Wells noted.

“It’s a lot of color in a colorful space. It’s going to hit you in the face,” Wells predicted. “It’s going to grab people’s attention. It’s really loud.”

That said, Wells hoped the images will be “intriguing and welcoming” to fair-goers passing by who might have no experience with labor unions.

And then, he added, “I just hope a lot of people will engage with folks at the Labor Pavilion in a way they might not have otherwise.”

In addition to Wells, three of the artists working on the mural who are former SEIU Local 26 members and original members of the Rogue Citizen collective are Shawn Hennessey, Eric Mattheis, and Matthew McGorry.

Goat Henke, a more recent collective member, also is working on the mural.

“Given the setting — the State Fair — it’s not just a mural on a street in St. Paul” that someone might pass every day, Wells reflected. “At the State Fair, the average people might walk by this building once,” Wells said. “This time, they’re going to remember it…”

Rogue Citizen’s website, declares,

Rogue Citizen is a strong supporter of organized labor and has been active in various justice campaigns, regional galleries, and the Twin Cities music scene. We are currently accepting commissions to create wall murals, original art and design.

For more photos of the Labor Pavilion mural taking shape at the fairgrounds, and other work by Rogue Citizen, visit their FB page.

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