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Minnesota will soon fly a new state flag

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

After an extensive search, a Minnesota commission is about to pick a new state flag. The public process saw thousands of entries pour in. Some had expected nods to the state's motto as the North Star State, but others came in with a little more buzz, featuring the state's unofficial bird, the mosquito. Minnesota Public Radio's Dana Ferguson reports.

DANA FERGUSON, BYLINE: In a crowded rotunda at the Mall of America, visitors pause and cast their gaze upward. Overhead, six finalists for the new Minnesota state flag are on display.

LENA KALJOT: That one's a little too plain. I would like that one if the star was yellow.

FERGUSON: That's Lena Kaljot of St. Paul. She was glad to see the new options.

KALJOT: I think it's kind of neat. I like that they're changing it, and I like the kinds of things they've come up with.

FERGUSON: But the flags also generated some blowback from shoppers passing by.

SARAH SULLIVAN: And I liked the old one, you know?

FERGUSON: That's Sarah Sullivan of Mankato. She visited the display with her two sons.

SULLIVAN: I don't know. I feel like we're kind of doing away with a lot of the history, and we're kind of getting, you know, out with the old, in with the new.

FERGUSON: Minnesota's current flag features a busy seal at the center of a royal-blue sheet. The design became the official flag in 1893, though it's seen some tweaks along the way. But the Democratic-led legislature this year charged the State Emblems Redesign Commission to replace it with a new flag. They deem the existing one cluttered and racially insensitive.

MIKE FREIBERG: It depicts, basically, a white farmer displacing an Indigenous person riding on a horseback.

FERGUSON: That's Democratic State Representative Mike Freiberg, one of the architects behind the redesign process.

FREIBERG: And that was very deliberate by the designers to depict, you know, the white people basically eliminating Native Americans from Minnesota.

FERGUSON: The commission has to select a flag that, quote, "accurately and respectfully reflects Minnesota's shared history, resources and diverse cultural communities." The designs can't single out a community or person in particular.

LEE HEROLD: Really pay attention to the comments that you get from people.

FERGUSON: That's Lee Herold, a self-professed flag expert. He gave the commission some advice last month.

HEROLD: I have a flag store. And when people come in, I can see if they're just buying a piece of bread off the shelf or you can see in their eyes that this means something to them.

FERGUSON: The call for submissions this fall spurred an outpouring of ideas, ranging from children's drawings to professional mockups. Many designs had things in common. They featured stars and loons, water and trees - all symbols that are emblematic of Minnesota. Others got more creative with their interpretations. A couple designers sent images of loons shooting laser beams from their eyes. One cast a hot dish, the Minnesota synonym for casserole, at the center. Here's commission vice chair Anita Gaul.

ANITA GAUL: We thought there would be a lot, but 2,100 flag designs? That exceeded even our greatest expectations.

FERGUSON: At a hearing last month, the panel narrowed the field of thousands of options down to six. One commissioner played an on-the-nose tune - "You're A Grand Old Flag."

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO PLAYING)

FERGUSON: As they reviewed their options, Republican State Representative Bjorn Olson expressed a concern about picking options that could stand the test of time. He considered a top vote-getter that depicted a North Star and a winding river reflecting the sky.

BJORN OLSON: I love it, but will I love it when I'm 100 years old?

FERGUSON: The panel is meeting in St. Paul to choose a winner ahead of the end-of-year deadline. Their pick will wave across the state beginning in May, barring a legislative veto.

For NPR News, I'm Dana Ferguson in St. Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINUTEMEN'S "COHESION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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