Public art is controversial almost by default – occupying a shared space, these works draw dueling opinions over whether they’re community expressions or irredeemable eyesores.
Great Falls artist Mike Hollern’s cat sculpture, which stretches its legs in front of Missoula’s Main Street parking garage, is no different, and never has been.
“Missoula’s going to be stuck with this thing,” Curtis Horton warned in a 1992 Missoulian article.
The former city councilor was one of the few who cast a dissenting vote against $18,000 in funding for the sculpture. “The title of this is ‘Cattin’ Around,’ but it looks to me like it will be a 7-foot-high, 18-foot-diameter dog that’s been run over by a truck.”
Despite Horton’s protestations, the money was approved, 7-3. His opinion proved to be half-prophetic a year later, when the council approved $3,500 to repair the statue. A snowplow struck the 3,000-pound concrete feline, shifting it several feet.
Crews took the opportunity to realign the kitty, because many a viewer and motorist disagreed with Horton’s critique.
“People like to see it as they’re coming west on Main Street,” said Kathi Olson, who was in charge of the city’s public art at the time.
In a later article, Geoff Badenoch of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, listed two more fan bases for the statute.
Cat lovers, it turns out, love the cat sculpture.
“People who own cats look at it, and they’ve seen their cat do it a million times. So they dig it,” he told the Missoulian in 1997.
Another constituency is younger children, who use the feline’s contoured back and head for as a beginners’ bouldering course.
Badenoch conceded, though, that some adults just don’t care for it.
“They think of it as a squashed cat,” he said.
Get to Missoula’s Iconic Cat Statue on Mountain Line Route 1, 6 & 12.