The Great Falls Urban Art Project

Since 2005, artists have been transforming underutilized display windows at a Great Falls parking garage into small grottos of public creativity. On Monday, October 23rd, artists, art enthusiasts, and project organizers will come together to celebrate the opening reception of the Autumn 2017 installation of the Great Falls Urban Art Project, an exhibit that has brought imagination and beauty to an otherwise drab building. The Urban Art Project highlights why Great Falls is Montana’s Basecamp for Art & Adventure.

“When the city of Great Falls built the parking garage on the corner of 1st Avenue South and 4th Street, they thoughtfully added 11 display windows surrounding the outside walls,” a promotional mailing for the Urban Art Project states.

Great Falls artist Jean Price proposed using the windows for revolving community art displays, borrowing the idea from artist friends in Missoula, who began using vacant downtown stores as temporary art galleries. “As I drove by the parking garage here, I noticed that there were always empty spaces there (in the display windows) and that the filled ones had begun to fall into disrepair for lack of attention,” Price said. “My Missoula friends came to mind and I decided to ask the Downtown Great Falls Association if it would be possible to use the display windows for art installations.”

The first 11 art projects were in place on a few months later, and with continuing support from the Business Improvement District, the city of Great Falls Parking Program, Paris Gibson Square Art Museum and a long list of financial sponsors, the UAP has continued unabated into its 12th year.

Artists are encouraged to use nontraditional mediums in the creation of their work that can withstand the climate changes expected during the 3-month display period. They are expected to plan carefully, and effectively use the 3D space afforded them in a way that reads well from the sidewalk.

“The artists have complete latitude, other than a reminder that the UAP is a public space where they must be respectful and to leave the interpretation of their ideas partially up to the viewer,” Price said. “I also ask that they not simply hang their usual art on the wall, but rather step outside of their usual box of art-making and into this one.”

Each of the 11 spaces is sponsored by a business, organization or individual. The displays are changed, and sponsors have the option of underwriting a whole year’s worth of art, or a single three-month exhibit. The money raised is used to pay each artist a stipend to offset the cost of materials and to maintain the planting beds, trees and banners that surround the display windows.

Since the UAP began, artists from as far away as New York, California and Texas have contributed their works, but the space is primarily filled by local artists. The project has become so popular that display space is usually booked well in advance.

“There are artists who have created several unique exhibits and others who only attempt the complexity of the spaces once,” Price noted. “I do not know what the artists are coming up with until they send publicity materials, and I have rarely been disappointed with the results.”

The current UAP will be on display in the windows of the Great Falls Parking Garage through January 5th. The Urban Art Project is a highlight of the Art Tours developed by the Downtown Great Falls Association. Each theme of the tour is different and includes a progressive dinner and tours of galleries throughout Great Falls.

“Great Falls has a strong history of support for the arts with the CM Russell Museum and Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art,” Price said. “The Urban Art Project is another proud addition to the galleries in the downtown area.”

Information on the artists is available online.

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