Members of the City Council approved a contract with a Missoula artist to create a piece of public art in Silver Park, but not before discussing the value of art.

Members of the Budget and Finance Committee began the discussion earlier this week by breaking down the $45,000 contract awarded to George Ybarra, the artist selected for the job.

Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler said the money includes $15,000 from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, $15,000 from the Silver Foundation, and $15,000 from the city’s “percent for art” ordinance.

“Because the total amount is over $10,000, it requires council approval,” said Marler. “It’ll be unveiled this summer at one of the summer’s First Fridays.”

Marler described the project as a large steel sculpture, which led Ward 2 council member Adam Hertz to ask the obvious question: Will the plans for the art be made available?

“Or is it top secret?” Hertz added.

Marler said she anticipated the question.

“The art committee wants to keep it under wraps until it’s unveiled, because it’s fun that way,” Marler said. “We also recognize that people are sensitive that it's a public process, and if the committee had to show what it was to get council support, that wouldn’t be a problem.

“But don’t you think it’s more fun to keep it under wraps?”

Ward 4 council member Jon Wilkins wasn’t so sure.

“If I had a chance to vote on the red Xs, I’d probably have said no, even though they have now become an icon in Missoula,” Wilkins said. “I kind of like seeing what’s going in there, before it goes in there.”

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The city’s Public Art Committee lists more than 40 works of art scattered across Missoula, from the 1991 “Cattin’ Around” sculpture outside the Central Park garage to the 2013 sculpture “Go with The Flow” outside the new Park Place garage on Front Street.

The red X’s referred to by Wilkins were installed in 1986 at the north end of Higgins Avenue. The sculpture, dubbed "Crossings," was created by Taag Peterson and was intended to reflect a railroad theme.

While not all public art is popular, Marler said, it plays a vital community role and should be open to a variety of interpretations and tastes.

“Do we pick art based on what’s popularly acceptable, or is art supposed to make you think a little bit and make you uncomfortable?” said Marler. “It’s not a big sculpture of yoga pants, I can assure you that.”

The joke was made in reference to state Rep. Doc Moore, R-Missoula, and his bill to ban tight and revealing clothing in public, among other things. Moore's measure failed to clear a legislative committee this week.

Members of the city’s Budget and Finance Committee approved the $45,000 contract with Ybarra on a unanimous vote. Marler said the sculpture would be unveiled this summer.

Until then, it will remain a surprise.

“We don’t select art based on a ballot vote,” Marler said. “There’s actually a process. But it’s an intriguing question.”

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