The term "public art" usually brings to mind sculptures or murals.

On Friday, it will mean a group of trained stilt walkers making the rounds on Higgins Avenue.

The five performers from the MASC Studio will start at the Radius Gallery at 6 p.m. and rove around for an hour during the art walk.

SJ Beck, the founder and owner of the studio, said stilt walking gets positive responses when they work crowds, as they've done at the Western Montana Fair every year, or events like Sunday Streets.

"I would say 100 percent of the people just light up," she said. Even if they think it's odd, she said, they're still wowed, and performers typically spend a lot of time posing for pictures.

This showing is the first entry in a new "microgrant" pilot program from the city's Public Art Committee. During First Friday in June, July and August, they've selected performance-based groups to put on an engaging, i.e. public-centered, activity during the art walk.

Stoney Sasser, a member of the committee, said they began discussions earlier this year about supporting art that's more ephemeral than, say, a sculpture. The new program could bring in live music, theater, or a temporary exhibition where the community engages in an activity, she said. As an example, an artist could lead a sidewalk chalk project where the public can contribute.

The committee is primarily funded by the Percent for Art program. City ordinance requires that 1.5 percent of certain construction costs on eligible city capital projects is set aside for art.

Sasser said a "very small portion" of the committee's funds are going toward the pilot. The stipend is $600 for June First Friday, but it could vary depending on the number of performers for a given project.

She said "the hope is to be generous and to do our best to pay people what their time is worth," including preparation, tear-down, and the artists' investment in learning and maintaining their skills.

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In the future, it will likely stay on First Friday, since that's when the community turns out, and bringing art into public spaces is "a bit of a solution to the limitations of space we have available" for certain types of art downtown, she said.

The MASC Studio, located on the Westside, is home for classes and performances for aerialists, acrobats, jugglers, fire spinners, dancers and other forms of "circus arts."

Beck said they have about 10 people who stilt-walk now. She sees it as "big, bold and different" group activity they can bring out into public that doesn't require a lot of equipment set-up compared to some of their other skills.

Victoria McIntyre learned by walking around the Northside. It's important to try get comfortable on uneven terrain with "little dips" and "gravelly areas," while shifting directions and staying balanced.

McIntyre said some beginners get help from spotters or walking sticks at first.

On Friday, they'll be cruising on 2-foot stilts, although 3 is often standard. It takes strength in muscles on your feet and calves that is unusual at first, she said, and doing it professionally calls for stamina, since some gigs can last six to eight hours.

And if a festival or event hires stilt walkers, they typically want them out in the crowd the entire time.

Nicole McCauley, who's primarily an aerialist, said a large part of the job is interacting.

"I feel like that's the stilting routine," she said. "People love socializing when you're on stilts, and people love to take pictures."

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