More than 60 people showed up for champagne and music at the Missoula Art Museum on First Friday, but this time, they weren’t just there to check out the art inside. Instead, the attendees gathered around a lot of patchy grass and waited in anticipation for something a little more ... groundbreaking.
And they got just what they wanted.
The MAM, city of Missoula and Adventure Cycling celebrated the completion of a three-year design and fundraising process for the Missoula Art Park with a groundbreaking ceremony, where nine “honorary shovelers” in bright orange hard-hats dug into the ground.
Among the diggers was executive director of Adventure Cycling Jim Sayer, a partner in the planning for the art park. Sayer said the park will take up 8,000 square feet, starting on the current lawn of the MAM building and stretching across East Pine Street onto Adventure Cycling’s property.
The park will include outdoor art installations on the MAM side of the street, and an open seating area on the Adventure Cycling side, he said. There will be new bike racks, two times the current amount, and a stainless steel public bathroom.
The current parking spots outside the MAM and Adventure Cycling will be eliminated, but new ones will be added nearby, he said.
“When bikers come through Missoula off the new bike trails, this beautiful park will be one of the first things they see,” Sayer said. “That’s really exciting and it’s such a great way to introduce people to this wonderful city.”
Laura Millin, executive director of the MAM, said the project is scheduled to be completed by Nov. 1, ahead of winter weather, and most of the planting will be done next spring.
A concrete sidewalk in front of the museum will become a gradual slope leading up to the front steps, Millin said. There will be exhibit space and planter benches in the 5,000 square feet of public park space on the museum side of the street and a colored concrete walkway connecting to the 3,000 square feet in front of Adventure Cycling.
Concrete is expensive, Millin said, and it will be laid thick to accommodate heavy and changing sculptures. Removable barriers in front of the MAM and Adventure Cycling buildings will allow trucks to install and remove sculptures.
“Business has been a strong supporter of this project,” Millin said. “We’ve raised $185,500 from businesses. We’ve raised another $87,200 from private individuals.”
The project has about $355,851 in government funding and $9,000 from civic agencies. Three private foundations have submitted a combined $46,000. In total, Millin said she and her team have raised $684,651, and have a little more fundraising to do.
Construction was scheduled to start in July, but after some issues with bidding, or lack thereof, Millin said the project was pushed back a month.
The MAM’s first outdoor exhibit is already lined up to be in the Art Park and it will be an ode to bicyclists in honor of the help she’s received from Adventure Cycling, Millin said. There will be at least one exhibit per season, and Millin’s hoping for two.
If the sculptures can take it, Millin said there will even be installations through the winter.
The groundbreaking ceremony included a tobacco offering and blessing by Salish artist Corky Clairmont.
After his blessing, Millin dug her shovel into the ground and cheered with the other diggers. Someone even chanted her name.
“Let’s break some ground, already,” she yelled.