Now in its twentieth year, the annual program honors an individual Minnesota artist who has made significant contributions to the quality of the state's cultural life with a $50,000 cash prize. Born in north Minneapolis in 1951, Jones was deeply influenced by the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and '70s and its belief that artists have an obligation to leave their communities "more beautiful than they found it." In his five-decade career, Jones has designed sets as an original company member of Penumbra Theatre and other stages; served as the first-ever artist-in-residence for the City of Minneapolis; and recently set the table for a diverse cast of two thousand guests at "CREATE: The Community Table," 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 twenty years, he has also been a guiding force behind the five-acre Frogtown Farm and other urban"greenlining" initiatives. Through his work, Jones has sought to raise awareness of environmental justice and to improve access to greenspace in one of the Twin Cities' most culturally diverse neighborhoods. Part of a network of green activists working to plant a thousand trees in Frogtown, Jones is a master gardener who has helped create new intersections between nature, art, and civic infrastructure. In addition, he is currently serving his third term on the Capitol Region Watershed District board and is one of the founders of Urban Boatbuilders, a nonprofit youth development program that teaches woodworking and other skills to local youth.
"With grand-scale designs that have been built into the foundation of Minneapolis's Nicollet Mall and St. Paul's Green Line transit system, Seitu Jones' artistic vision has become an indelible part of Minnesota's cultural landscape," said McKnight Foundation president Kate Wolford."Over the course of a wide-ranging career in painting, sculpture, theater arts, public works, and environmental design, Seitu Jones has demonstrated what's possible when an artist with a hopeful vision and a generous spirit sets down deep roots in his community. As we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of this award, it's especially exciting to be honoring an artist like Seitu, who has contributed so much to our sense of place here in Minnesota."