Mural festival idea developing for Great Falls

Plans for a mural festival are being developed in Great Falls.

During the June 26 Downtown Development Partnership meeting, Joan Redeen, community director of the Business Improvement District, said that she had been approached by Rebecca Engum of Visit Great Falls Tourism to create a mural festival.

They idea stemmed from Calgary’s mural festival, which will be in its third year in August.

During the Calgary festival, artists created new murals, and the event includes art tours, alley parties and outdoor cinema.

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The vision for Great Falls, Redeen said, is to eventually create a festival that involves artists creating new murals around downtown, and close Central Avenue to create a space where artists of all kinds are creating, through painting, sculpting, jewelry making or other art forms.

Holding the festival in Gibson Park is another idea to avoid having to coordinate street closures on Central, she said.

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Redeen said during Wednesday’s meeting that the BID board was supportive and had committed up to $25,000 to organize an initial event this August.

In conjunction with the downtown night market on Aug. 23, the group is planning some mural painting with local artist Sheree Nelson and Cameron Moberg, an internationally known muralist who created art downtown last fall.

Moberg will also host a workshop for artists on producing art on a large scale for murals and how to charge for their art work.

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Redeen said that’s a consistent issue in that few local artisits are accustomed to creating large scale murals and have a hard time estimating the cost in order to bid on mural projects in the downtown.

On Aug. 24, the event will continue with downtown art tours at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Redeen said the tours will start at Davidson Plaza with a Charlie Russel reenactor and then move to the Church Harris building, which has a Paris Gibson mural, where a Paris Gibson reenactor will meet the tour group before moving on to other murals in the downtown.

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The 11 a.m. tour will end at the Celtic Cowboy, the 1 p.m. tour will end at the Mighty Mo Brewing Company and the 3 p.m. tour will end at Enbar, Redeen said.

The event is still in the planning stages, Redeen said, but they’re hoping to do a smaller event this year and then expand into a larger event in 2020.

Erin Borland, manager of the Great Falls Original Farmer’s Market, said she could arrange vendors that Saturday to place the art related vendors on the 100 block of Central Avenue.

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Two downtown property owners have expressed interest in art in their alleyways and have had preliminary discussions with the city.

Carol Bronson, with NeighborWorks Great Falls, said that Moberg was willing to curate the festival, which is what he’s currently doing in Indiana.

The Downtown Development Partnership had some discussion during Wednesday’s meeting about whether the murals should only be open to local artists or opened up to a broader range of artists as it is in Calgary.

That discussion is ongoing.

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Redeen advocates for local artists and the BID’s traffic signal box art project is only open to Cascade County artists, but others said it might be worth opening it up to other artists to generate more interest and activity.

In 2000, the city adopted an ordinance regarding a sidewalk art gallery and indicates that the BID should develop guidelines for art in the sidewalk gallery. The ordinance also indicates that the BID will develop a review committee, which Redeen said does review art requests for the downtown.

Craig Raymond, city planning director, said the city doesn’t regulate murals so long as it’s not advertising or graffiti.

“If we don’t have to regulate something at this point, I’d rather not,” Raymond said. “If the community wants to come together to further regulate, than we can do that as a community.”

Raymond said he doesn’t want the city to get into regulating public art.

“I don’t feel that’s the city’s business,” he said.

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The Historic Preservation Advisory Commission developed guidelines last year for murals in the downtown, with particular interest in historic buildings or contributing buildings.

The guidelines are just that and HPAC has no regulatory authority over public art on private property.

Kate McCourt, the historic preservation officer for the city and county, encouraged property owners to talk to her before painting buildings since some brick isn’t meant to be painted and paint can degrade the brick, cause spalling and moisture issues.

Her advice isn’t regulatory either but could help a property owner preserve the integrity of their building.