The XXXX’s are one of the most iconic pieces of public art in Missoula.
The favorite installations in town? At this point, Kia Liszak chooses the painted traffic signal boxes, but she and other new members of the city’s Public Art Committee are poised to bring a fresh slate of cultural landmarks to Missoula with a focus on local artists.
“I’m hoping to create some new favorites,” Liszak said.
In the summer of 2013, Mayor John Engen appointed Liszak and Ted Hughes to the committee, and theirs are the most recent appointments to the group charged with developing Missoula’s public art collection. Liszak is director of the Zootown Arts Community Center, which sees some 5,000 people through its doors annually. Hughes is an art historian, painter, and museum registrar at the Missoula Art Museum, where he’s worked the last five years.
Engen, who makes most of the appointments to the committee of nine, said he selected the new members in part because he believes they’ll create strong ties to the many artists who call western Montana home: “We have so much talent in this community, and we pride ourselves on being a community of artists.”
The newest members of the committee were attracted to it for a variety of reasons.
Last year, the city renovated the XXXX’s, and artist Taag Peterson worked on bringing his own “Crossings” sculpture from the 1980s back to life.
“I found myself enjoying the process and was hoping I could bring kind of a hands-on contribution to the group,” Peterson said.
Doug Olson has gone through the Public Art Committee’s submission process as an artist himself, and he wanted to help other local artists learn about the art calls in Missoula and take advantage of them. He said former committee members left “a great platform for us to take off from,” and new members are energetic.
“I’m ecstatic about the way it’s going so far,” Olson said.
Hughes had been looking into the ways the city of Missoula was improving the lives of its residents. He read about the Missoula Economic Partnership, the plan to end homelessness, and all the people using their expertise to move Missoula forward.
“I was inspired by that, and then I learned about the opening for the Public Art Committee,” he said.
It fit his own expertise. Hughes, with a master’s degree in art history and an understanding of the local arts scene, decided he could contribute to the administrative role of the committee.
Liszak works with volunteers at the ZACC, so she understands the power of volunteer boards. She’d wanted to learn more about the Public Art Committee and its decisions, and she’s always on the hunt for interesting pieces of public art herself.
“It doesn’t even matter if you yourself really like the piece,” Liszak said. “You develop an emotional relationship with it anyway. And I think it’s just really extremely important for a community to have those things.”
One focus of the new group will be to build a strong bridge between the Public Art Committee and local artists.
The committee will issue interesting art calls this year, Olson said. One includes a call to reuse steel hunks and other relics at the Old Sawmill District, and he’s telling all of his artist friends about the opportunities.
“I’m talking those up to everybody, and hopefully, everybody will apply for them,” Olson said.
Hughes is looking at ways other communities with strong cultural elements support art. In Kelowna, British Columbia, the community of some 100,000 has adopted a cultural plan, and it promotes itself as a cultural center. The plan brings together the different strands of art in the community, and Hughes said the Public Art Committee here could play a role in a similar plan for Missoula.
“There is so much stuff going on here that it’s mind boggling almost, especially in a town of 70,000,” Hughes said.
Liszak wants to see a public art project where the entire community is invited to participate, and she sees the Missoula Mandala Project in Caras Park as a model.
To Peterson, success will be if people in Missoula continue talking about art long after pieces are installed. He wants mature, developed work that challenges viewers.
“If it doesn’t stretch any boundaries or if it isn’t challenging to people’s perspectives or what they’re used to seeing, then perhaps it doesn’t remain interesting for as long,” Peterson said.
Mayor Engen has some ideas for ways the committee can move forward, too.
He’s grateful former members Joan Jonkel and Dana Boussard didn’t lose faith when the program “was limping along,” and in the future he hopes to relieve the volunteer members of some of the administrative work they do. “Today, they write the art call, receive the mail, work with the artists on the contract.”
Eventually, he would like to put financial resources toward staff support, a project that he said could take place more quickly with help from the council. Engen also would like to see a portion of the One Percent for Art funds reserved for locals; the program sets aside 1 percent of capital project construction costs for art.
Engen also appointed to the committee veteran members Peter Lambros, chairman, and Kathi Olson; the Missoula City Council appointed Linda Richards and Jeff Rolston-Clemmer; Marilyn Marler is the council representative.