Groundbreaking sets downtown art park on path toward construction

Art Park
Corwin Clairmont, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, sprinkles tobacco on the site of a future art park outside the Missoula Art Museum during a ceremonial ground breaking on Friday evening. (Photo by Martin Kidston)

By Martin Kidston

A group of community leaders, artists and visionaries sunk their shovels into the soft soil outside the Missoula Art Museum on Friday evening, breaking ground on a new public plaza planned for the downtown district.

As a large crowd collected on Pine Street outside the Missoula Art Museum, those behind the project gave customary thanks and cast their individual blessings, saying the new art park and plaza will go far in making downtown Missoula a better place.

“Place does matter, and the work that transpires to make these projects come to fruition has a lot to do with the people here today,” said Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Missoula Downtown Association. “This park will be artistic. It’ll be cultural, beautiful and fun, and we’re delighted to see this wonderful project come to fruition.”

The $1 million project had been discussed for more than a decade and has spent years in planning, design and redesign. Pooling the funding took time and was completed by what Laura Millin, executive director of the Missoula Art Museum, described as a team of dedicated community advocates.

Ellen Buchanan, executive director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, echoed those thoughts on Friday evening.

“In my decades of working with plans and redevelopment, I’ve never seen a more dynamic plan done as a grass-roots effort by the community,” Buchanan said. “It wasn’t something the the city initiated. It was a group of people coming together, just as this art park came together. It’s very much in keeping with downtown.”

As designed, the art park extends the Missoula Art Museum north across Pine Street to Adventure Cycling. The two halves will be connected by colored concrete, while raised planters, built-in benches, lighting and large-scale outdoor sculptures adorn the plaza.

The park’s designer, Ann Hanenburg of SPVV Landscape Architects, believes the park will be unique to the region.

“We have the opportunity on occasion to do projects, but not quite like this one,” Hanenburg said. “There’s nothing like this in the whole region. Once you build it and embrace it, it will be something you’ll be proud of for many generations to come.”

Missoula Mayor John Engen agreed, adding that Missoula’s youth won’t remember a day when the art park didn’t exist on Pine Street. The project, envisioned in the city’s 2009 Downtown Master Plan, will begin construction next week.

“I think that’s my job to make a place better and create places that the next generation will assume always existed because they were such good ideas,” Engen said. “This is a good idea. This is a good community effort.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com