Those brightly colored "neck warmers" that suddenly appeared on the Higgins Avenue light poles on Sunday?

They are the result of a quirky experimental community art sensation that has gained traction around the world and in American cities such as Berkeley, Calif.

Such blitzkrieg installations go by various names - yarn bombing, yarnstorming, guerrilla knitting, urban knitting or graffiti knitting. It is an expressive, artistic way to personalize sterile or cold places.

On the Higgins Avenue Bridge, the crocheted light pole warmers are intended to draw attention to the community's homeless and needy.

"We are calling it ‘Keep Missoula Warm,' " said Karen Slobod, a Missoula artist who dreamed up the concept with her boyfriend, Arlan Bergoust.

The duo created a website by the same name, explaining the project and redirecting viewers to the upcoming sixth annual Project Homeless Connect, a one-day event that connects people who are homeless and those who are worried about becoming homeless with essential services.

Project Homeless Connect takes place on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church at 300 E. Main St. At the free event, attendees will have access to medical and dental care, reading glasses, a warm meal, clothing, hair cuts, housing assistance, legal advice and more.

"We decided to launch Keep Missoula Warm this week to correspond with Project Homeless Connect at a time when people can volunteer services and donations for at-risk families," Slobod said. "But our hope is to keep the yarn bomb project up throughout the winter."

Slobod was first introduced to the community art form while she was hired to work on a project for the Bay Area's transportation system.

"I saw it over the summer and the idea just kind of took off from there," Slobod said.

When she returned home to Missoula, Slobod and Bergoust combed secondhand stores and collected crochet blankets and scarves in primary colors, and some in orange.

On Sunday, a posse of artists and friends helped sew the material onto the poles, along with a card explaining the Keep Missoula Warm project. Working with the Missoula Public Art Commiittee, the group obtained the necessary permits from the city's Public Works Department and the Montana Department of Transportation.

"It's fun because we thought of it a while ago and it just progressed in a way to help the homeless and at-risk families," Bergoust said. "I think it's a great idea - kind of kooky - and it's an interesting way to connect with the community."

Yarn is also an engaging art medium because everyone can relate to something that has been knitted or crocheted - it's soft and it's inviting, Slobod said.

Street art can be tricky, because it has a tendency to be so esoteric that it's off-putting, she said, "but knitted art is so friendly, it is something I think the whole community would find fun and whimsical."

While dressing one of the light poles, Scott Morris, a Missoula set designer, said he was pleased to participate in the project.

"I think public art is something that is valuable and expressive of the individuality of the community," Morris said. "It gives a sense of place and a sense of humanity."

This particular project has a very simple but powerful message, he said, and the yarn is an extremely effective art medium.

"It humanizes spaces we don't necessarily recognizes like light poles and it makes such places visible - a place to stop and notice."

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

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