“A wonderful thing:” MAM’s public art display adds color to government buildings

“Near Reisers I,” a 1987 painting by Robert DeWeese, is among roughly 200 pieces in the Missoula Art Museum’s Missoula County Art Collection. The works are often loaned out for public display at locations around Missoula. (Missoula Art Museum)

Those dozing off during marathon hearings in Missoula City Council chambers have glanced from time to time at the art adorning the walls, dreaming perhaps of a better place.

The same may be said for patients waiting to see their doctor at Partnership Health Center, or a deputy at the sheriff’s department. Pieces from the Missoula Art Museum’s permanent collection at least bring color and levity to the moment, courtesy of its Art in Public Places program.

“There are hundreds of pieces around the county,” said Anne Hughes, the county’s communications director. “It’s an amazing thing.”

With roughly 200 pieces in its Missoula County Art Collection and dozens on display across the city at any given time, MAM’s Art in Public Places program has long been a staple of artistic reflection.

Pieces hang in the office of the city clerk and in the mayor’s office at City Hall. Nearly a dozen works hang at the City-County Health Department, including Lulu Yee’s “The Girl who Dreamt” and John Smart’s “Sheep on the Cooney Ranch.”

“It’s a wonderful thing that this art is up on the wall and the museum is still in public places,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “It can viewed and enjoyed by all.”

To provide public access to its collection, the museum may loan a painting, print or photo for one year for display in spaces primarily used by the public, including lobbies, hallways and conference rooms. It also includes private offices, so long as they enjoy “significant public traffic.”

With so many pieces spread across the city, MAM and Missoula County recently dusted off their policies guiding the Art in Public Places program. The policy was adopted in 2007 and last updated in 2014.

“It ensures we’re following the guidelines of displaying art in ares where there’s public traffic,” said Hughes. “It promotes the purpose and intent of the museum’s mission, and the Art in Pubic Places program that the museum administers.”

The pieces cover a range of styles, from abstraction to contemporary art and digital photo prints. The works include a 2017 screen print by Tressa Jones titled “Mountain Top, River Bottom” and Jim Poor’s colorful 2010 painting, “Circle with Gestures.”

The 1991 lithograph by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, dubbed “Ode to Chief Seattle,” may cause one to pause during a visit to the Health Department. The updated policy ensures such works remain safe, and that borrowers follow the museum’s rules of display.

“It ensures that no one except the Missoula Art Museum is going to be handling any of the work itself, because we don’t want any damage to come to it,” said Hughes. “It offers clear guidelines on where art can be displayed.”

Jennifer Reifsneider, the museum’s registrar, said the program was recently expanded to include display in the Sophie Moiese conference room at the Missoula County Courthouse. The museum offers a guide for viewing the collection on display around the city.

“We’re really glad to be doing it,” said Reifsneider. “We’re just trying to tighten everything up to make sure the language is consistent in the policy. There are no major changes to procedures or the concept.”