Dressing Up Downtown: Missoula Art Museum’s Upcoming Art Park

By MATT ANGLEN

The Missoula Art Museum is currently in the process of developing a community Art Park and sculpture garden and this is great news for Missoulians. The park will feature a rotating exhibit of sculptures, green spaces, benches, and a number of other amenities, creating a small downtown plaza. In the end it’s going to be beautiful, it’s going to be functional and it is going to be a representation of Missoula.

The planning process has been deeply rooted in the community, with many options for public input. What is so exciting about this project is not just the aesthetic beauty it will bring to downtown, or the quality of life improvements a community space will afford us, but what it means for our economic development.

We know from studies on the Arts and Economic Prosperity (conducted by Americans for the Arts) that creative industries are a driving force in our local economy. Arts non-profits alone generate roughly $40 million in annual economic activity. So, how is a sculpture garden going to help?

Missoula is growing at a rapid pace. The increase in people moving to or remaining in our community is starting to exceed the jobs available to us. It’s a challenge being faced across America, but not one we need to fear. While some towns find themselves floundering in the face of unexpected growth, others have found ways to succeed and thrive.

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Downtown Missoula. Photo courtesy ofMCC.

The reasons for their success is no great mystery either. The rise of the digital age has opened the door for employers to locate nearly anywhere they would like to. Instead of remaining in large urban centers with high overhead costs, companies can set up shop anywhere they can find the right employees. Which often means that by creating a place that the best and brightest of us want to live in, you can theoretically attract the employers to support your growth.

It’s called creating a sense of place, and this is where MAM’s Art Park and projects like it come in. Think about it, would you rather live in an undistinguishable, run of the mill, American suburb – or a vibrant community that blends the natural beauty of the Rockies with a thriving art scene, a beautiful and inviting downtown – a place that hosts public pianos on street corners, sculpture gardens down the road from the post office, a festival nearly every weekend, and so many more cultural offerings.

Creating a sense of place means recognizing what makes your community unique, and embracing that identity. We all know and love the arts in our community, but to succeed as a growing city, we need to make that identity readily apparent to any and all visitors.

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Image Courtesy ofMCC.

Missoula has always been a creative community. Our humble mountain town has been the home of numerous artists from notable authors such as James Welch and Norman Maclean to absurdist filmaker David Lynch and Decemberists front man Colin Meloy – just to name a few. However our commitment to the arts goes well beyond a handful of celebrities.

The First Friday Gallery Walk each month floods downtown with eager art enthusiasts, but that is just the tip of our local arts scene. Art is a driving force in our economy, the tie that binds our community, and the soul of our town.

When we embrace and support projects like MAM’s upcoming Art Park, we help to create that sense of place that will be so important as we look to the future.

As our city grows we are in a constant interview situation. We need to attract employers and convince our skilled, educated work force to stay. You wouldn’t just roll out of bed and go to an interview, hoping the employer just knows how great you are. You get dressed in your best clothes, wear a confident smile, and put all your best qualities forward.

The new Art Park and projects like it are going to fit Missoula like a well tailored suit. It’s not just trees and benches; it’s a step in the right direction to ensure the success and quality of life in our community.

To learn more about the plans for Missoula’s new Art Park and to contribute your input to the project visit the Missoula Art Museum’s website.

Visit the Missoula Cultural Council Blog for more information on Arts and Economic Development

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Matt Anglen HeadshotMatt Anglen is a prodigal Missoulian who has returned to the valley after a brief stint as a starving artist in the Windy City. He is currently the Program Director for the Missoula Cultural Council and lives with his wife and son at the base of MountJumbo.