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Humphrey School Announces Joan and Walter Mondale Commons

Students and faculty returning for spring semester to the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota were met with something new and beautiful: the atrium of the building has officially been renamed the Joan and Walter Mondale Commons, and a new display showcases artwork created by Joan Mondale.

The name change coincides with the 90th birthday of former Vice President Walter Mondale, and was announced publicly at his birthday celebration on January 13.

The new name is intentional in two specific ways.

First, it honors the partnership of Mr. and Mrs. Mondale, who in many ways redefined the way political spouses approach public service. While Mr. Mondale served as one of Minnesota's U.S. Senators from 1964 until he won the vice presidency in 1976, Mrs. Mondale immersed herself in the political and cultural life of Washington, DC. She gave weekly tours at the National Gallery of Art, worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation to convert railroad stations into art galleries, and even wrote a book for young readers, Politics in Art, which addresses politics as a theme in culture.

During Mr. Mondale’s term as vice president, Mrs. Mondale became a valuable resource on the arts to the White House, and served as honorary chair of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities. When Mr. Mondale posted to Japan as U.S. Ambassador, Mrs. Mondale, now widely known by her nickname, Joan of Art, helped smooth tense U.S.-Japan relations through her own brand of cultural ambassadorship, studying pottery with leading Japanese ceramicists and giving her own pieces as gifts.

The use of Commons in the name is also intentional. Countless people work, celebrate, and otherwise congregate in the Humphrey School’s atrium each year. As Dean Laura Bloomberg described to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, which approved the renaming in December, “We use the space, in keeping with our mission, to ‘inspire, educate, and support innovative leaders to advance the common good in a diverse world.’ The atrium is home to the type of efforts that animated the Mondales’ work as a couple: promoting human connection, expression, understanding, and problem solving across challenges and differences.”

The renaming also honors the numerous ways that Walter Mondale contributes to the Humphrey School and his commitment to helping train the next generation of public servants. Mondale serves as a member of the dean’s advisory council, has led a $2 million fundraising campaign for student scholarships, and has taught a course on the U.S. Constitution and national security at the School for nearly 15 years.

Several pieces of pottery created by Joan Mondale, who died in 2014, are displayed at the entrance to the building, intended to remind visitors of the importance of cultural diplomacy in working toward the common good.