No artist worth the title lets anyone tell them what to create. That doesn’t stop anyone from trying.
The Franklin to the Fort neighborhood is on track (pun intended) to get a much-needed public park after the city purchased a 12-acre plot from Montana Rail Link in 2016. The primary goal of the $2 million land deal was to connect the last few blocks of the Bitterroot Branch Trail. Plans for the rest of the triangular property at the corner of South Avenue and Johnson Street have been in development since.
One key element is a 4.5-acre, $1.5 million-plus park to be decorated with “artifacts” from the railroad company whose below-market sale price has been described as a generous donation. The latest plans incorporate train car wheelsets, signal crossings, tracks, buffer stops and rail switch stands.
By city ordinance, the project budget must also set aside 1.5 percent of construction costs for public art, in this case about $12,500 after administrative fees. Noting the modest amount, the Public Art Committee last month asked the Missoula Redevelopment Agency to match it through tax-increment funds, as the agency has done for previous installations.
MRA staff argued that the railyard junk would provide sufficient art for the park, but the agency’s appointed board sided with the public art committee. A $25,000 call for proposals was issued Aug. 1 and is open through Sept. 21.
The committee identified two sites where a 20’ by 20’ installation will not “diminish the sculptural qualities” of the park’s railyard artifacts. Its call for submissions “encourages proposals that balance the artistic design in the artwork with the setting, history or theme of the MRL park” while also being “very legible as an autonomous artistic intervention into the landscape.”
In other words, the piece should be recognizably autonomous without upstaging the motifs that pay homage to the park’s history (and donors). Fair enough. A bronze hobo might strike thematic balance, but Indy staff suspect city officials would counter that Missoula’s parks already have their share of living, breathing “transients.”
In that case, we’d suggest a statue of the city’s most venerable rich white man: mining and shipping magnate Dennis Washington, whose Washington Companies include MRL. It’s not our job to tell the artist what the statue of Denny should include (his latest yacht?), but we’re steadfast in our demand that it be forged of solid copper.