Missoula, Montana is one of the greatest places on earth, and our penchant for public art is a major contributing factor. Everyone across the great State of Montana knows Missoula is Big Sky Country’s most culturally-diverse and artistic city. After all, we are home to the University of Montana, which offers robust educational opportunities in art, media arts, music, theatre, writing and dance. Further, people from all across America and continue to discover Missoula for its creative and artistic vibe that draws incredible musicians, filmmakers, writers, and artists to connect with our community.
As highly-educated community members, Missoulians adore art of all kinds. This can be seen on the first Friday of every month, when thousands of people congregate in Downtown Missoula for Gallery Night. Museums, art galleries, restaurants and coffee shops display the artwork of novice and professional artists, rotating the work each month.
The City of Missoula made the commitment in 1985 to pursue and manage art in the public realm, creating the Public Art Committee and, in time, adopting the Percent for Art Program. Both of these efforts were “firsts” for a Montana city. The Committee, charged with creating and maintaining public art opportunities, works with the public and private sectors, community members, and various funding sources to satisfy this goal.
Our infatuation with public art is further reinforced by the Missoula Art Museum’s endeavor to build an outdoor art park on East Pine Street this year. The Missoula Art Park will feature a gathering destination in the heart the community with rotating sculptures year-round, and outdoor seating, symbolizing creative place-making at its best. Missoula and UM are home to one of the most comprehensive art collections in the United States, as the Montana Museum of Art & Culture holds more than 11,000 pieces from Rembrandt to Warhol.
One of the most incredible things that happened this past year is the renovation of the beloved and Historic Wilma Theatre into a modern concert and event venue that continues to emphasize its artistic charm and beautiful ornamental décor.
The most recent Percent for Public Art project was installed at Pineview Park, immediately adjacent to Rattlesnake Elementary School. “Rattlesnake Ripple,” a 230-tile piece by Alison Reintjes represents the seasonal water currents, cycles, and flows of the nearby Rattlesnake Creek.
Another great project that came to fruition this past year is the creation and installation of “Perseverance and Passage” by artist George Ybarra in Silver Park, Missoula’s newest public play space on the banks of the Clark Fork River. This is yet another of the many public art projects funded by the City of Missoula’s Percent for Public Art Program in partnership with the Silver Foundation and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.
Missoula’s penchant for public art can also be seen in Mike Golins’ “Go with the Flow” art installation on the Park Place parking structure at Front and Pattee. This incredible hands-on art installation, completed in 2013, plays well with the creative vertical landscape of the garage that represents the wheat fields and blue skies of Montana. Now Downtown Missoula is home to 40 public art pieces, complete with a self-guided Public Art Walking Tour!
Starting in 2009, the Traffic Signal Box Project has brought to life dull and lifeless traffic signal boxes, turning them into vibrant, colorful, interesting and engaging public art pieces that emphasize our talented and creative artists. More than fifty boxes serve as a showcase of our collective creative energy.
Most recently the City of Missoula Public Art Committee partnered with the Missoula Cultural Council to strengthen the ties between public art and cultural activities and to jointly provide more robust support services for public art.
Art defines us. It inspires us. It motivates us and helps us express ourselves. Public art challenges us to see things in a different light and tells the story of who we are as a community and what we value as its populace. On behalf of our community and the extraordinary Public Art Committee, I invite you to explore the arts of Missoula. We have much to offer and there is always more to learn. We are grateful for how the arts enrich our lives and our beloved Missoula.
—Linda McCarthy, Executive Director, Downtown Missoula Partnership