Exponent Explains: The A.R.T project

It’s no secret that Bozeman is a unique place. Somewhere between a granola-eating environmental nuthouse and an Old West cowboy town with shootouts and bank robbers, the Gallatin Valley holds riches far more valuable than gold, copper or silver.

If you have wandered downtown, it is likely that you’ve seen part of this wealth firsthand. The City of Bozeman partnered with Gallatin Art Crossing to call upon painters, illustrators and other artists to transform traffic boxes downtown into cornerstones of unique, high quality art.

Michael Blessing, the mind behind the piece on the corner of Tracy Avenue and Main Street., says the project is great for the community. His piece, titled ‘Kicking Up Dust,’ is an interpretation of what one might see at a rodeo.

“I’ve always been a fan,” Blessing remarks, “It is amazing: the power of courage . . . or stupidity . . . to get on the back of a 2,000 pound animal, it is fascinating.”

Blessing wanted to capture something about Montana, but also put his personal style and flair into it. “I wanted to be outrageous, which is why there is such a contrast between the blue and the orange: it makes an impact,” the artist reflects. “Capturing something in motion, with power and passion, that’s what I love.” The bull and the rider are presented in front of a “firestorm” of orange and red that contrasts imaginatively the grey sidewalk and other surroundings.

Sarah Angst, another Bozeman artist took a different approach: making a collage of various images. She explains, “I envisioned locals and tourists walking downtown, noticing the box, and picking out a favorite image.”

On the corner of Black Avenue and Main Street, the “Bozeman Collage” features various images Angst has completed. “I chose a selection of my existing pieces that I felt represent Bozeman. Our love of nature and wildlife, the ridge at Bridger, our picturesque Main Street, our Yellowstone neighbors” and her list goes on.

“The originals of these images are hand painted linoleum block prints. To create them I begin with a drawing and then carve my drawing into linoleum. I then print the black outline from the carved block and finally I bring the images to life by hand painting each impression with watercolor inks,” Angst said.

Although the art is original and unique to Bozeman, dressing up traffic boxes is an idea that is gaining popularity across the west. Missoula, Great Falls and Boise are just a few examples of cities that have put local artists on display in a creative way. But why is this so popular?

According to the Gallatin Art Crossing, “The goal of the a.r.t project is to add public art to the streetscape and decrease the instances of graffiti, poster and sticker vandalism on traffic control boxes.”

Blessing thinks the project is more fundamental: “When I walk downtown, I like to see a nice piece of art or two. That’s good enough for me.”

For more information, visit gallatinartcrossing.com and go downtown and check it out.