Public art growing in Great Falls; call for artists open in traffic signal box art program
This summer, two traffic signal boxes will be adorned with artwork in Great Falls.
One will be near Milwaukee Station and the other will replace the box at 5th Street and Central Avenue. The old box was hit by a vehicle in January.
The signal box program is one of several local public art programs and is managed by the Great Falls Business Improvement District and the Downtown Development Partnership.
The program was established in 2011 and is part of an effort to continue downtown beautification.
The BID is currently accepting applications for the two boxes that will be completed this summer. Applications are due by 12:30 p.m. June 1 and the forms are available at the BID office, 318 Central Ave., or online.
A committee will meet June 4 to vote on the submissions and the winners will be announced June 6.
The Downtown Development Partnership is funding the artwork on the box near Milwaukee Station since it’s outside the BID boundary and the BID is funding the downtown box, according to Joan Redeen, BID’s community director.
The artwork is printed on vinyl wraps that meet requirements from the Montana Department of Transportation, Redeen said.
Before the traffic signal box artwork program started, most of the boxes throughout town were painted black.
A 1990 report from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program suggested that “a painted cabinet may provide a better appearance, if the paint can be maintained. However, colors should be light, because dark colors will increase the internal temperature of the cabinet significantly possibly resulting in damage to the electronic components housed within.”
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association standards for traffic signal control equipment require that the equipment be able to withstand temperatures between-30°F to 165°F and thermostat-controlled cooling fans and heaters are used in the boxes to maintain those temperatures.
As communities nationwide have added artwork to traffic signal boxes, there’s been an industry wide concern about the temperatures within the boxes, according to a recent article in the Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal. The article used Great Falls’ program as a case study.
MDT put temperature gauges in four traffic signal boxes around town in April 2017.
The study was to see if the vinyl artwork wrap caused the internal temperatures to rise, but according to the data, the wrap lowered internal temperatures.
MDT owns 82 traffic signal boxes in the Great Falls District, which is central and north Montana, and 68 of those are in the City of Great Falls, according to the ITE Journal article. The city owns and operates 23 traffic signals on city streets. MDT contracts with the city Public Works Department for maintenance of the MDT-owned signals.
Since the traffic signal box program was established in Great Falls, artwork has been added to 21 of them within the BID boundaries.
The art installation is handled by Clean Slate Group with what’s considered anti-graffiti vinyl.
In September 2017, artwork by Kelli Lawson and Jessica Haldenwanger was added to traffic signal boxes on 2nd Avenue North at the corners of 5th and 6th Streets respectively.
“This program is part of the BID’s ongoing efforts to continue beautification in Downtown Great Falls. The TSB Art Project enhances the pedestrian and driving experience by incorporating artwork directly into the streetscape,” according to the BID.
The traffic signal box is part of the larger effort to expand public art in downtown Great Falls.
Murals are a focus this summer and NeighborWorks Great Falls, in partnership with the BID and DDP, is hoping to bring Cameron Moberg to town in June to explore the possibility of adding murals to several businesses in the downtown area.
Moberg won the television competition Street Art Throwdown in 2015 and is a friend of a NWGF staff member. He did an artist in residency program last year in Indiana, according to Carol Bronson of NWGF.
“This isn’t just some random artist,” Bronson told The Electric in an interview earlier this year.
Bronson is also hoping the visit will be a step toward developing a public mural program for Great Falls.
There are a handful of businesses that have expressed interest in painting murals on their exteriors, but there are a number of details to be worked out, Bronson said during Thursday’s DDP meeting.
“I think it will create jobs and bring more people downtown,” Bronson said.
Public murals are allowed on private buildings so long as they aren’t advertising, graffiti or obscene.
Craig Raymond, city planning director, said, “we’re good with art and you don’t need our permission.”
Public art is covered under the city’s Discovery Gallery ordinance that was adopted in 2000. That ordinance sets guidelines and established an art committee that would review proposals to ensure public art on private property meets those guidelines.
During the DDP meeting, Redeen said it would be educational to have someone like Moberg meet with local artists. She said the biggest challenge she has in commissioning public art downtown is that local artist struggle to give a cost estimate for projects.
Bronson said they’re hoping to get a grant to fund Moberg’s visit and a possible artist in residency program.
Brett Doney of the Great Falls Development Authority asked what the cost might be and if there were ways to start building such a program instead of waiting for a grant. He said he had a philosophical problem with brining in an artist when there are so many talented local artists.
Bronson and Redeen said it would help local artists to have a bigger name artist visit and help them create a program, teach the local artists how to bid on projects and make a living.
That would be good for the local artists, but also the community, they said.
Public art “draws people to those corners. Wouldn’t that be a good thing for downtown to bring people to those areas,” Bronson said in an earlier interview.
“People always say it’s not lively downtown,” Redeen said in the same interview. “What if we get a few of these big colorful murals?”
The BID is also a partner in the Great Falls Urban Art Project, which is holding an exhibit opening on June 25 from 5-7 p.m. at 315 1st Ave. S., in front of the South Parking Garage.
The art project was created in 2005 by Jean Price after she noticed the parking garage had 11 display windows on the exterior walls, but they were rarely filled.
“People want an exciting place to go and be,” Bronson said of public art. “It’s really the feeling.”