Waldazo by Kirsten Kainz
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Art For The People

BY: Sarah Peruzzi | JANUARY 23, 2024

How Big Sky Became an Arts Destination.

“We could be life every other resort town, but we don’t have to be.” -Katie Alvin, Development Director of the Arts Council of Big Sky

Waldazo by Kirsten Kainz

In the fall of 2018, Waldazo—a majestic life-size bison assembled from a collection of donated iron—by Bozeman sculptor Kirsten Kainz was installed in Town Center’s Fire Pit Park. Waldazo challenges viewers to question America’s throw- away culture. Photograph by Nathan Peterson

In a mountain town like Big Sky, our attention is typically drawn to athleticism—skiing, biking, running, boating—or the natural world—summits bathed in alpenglow, chance encounters with wildlife, the night sky at elevation. In that environment, happening upon art unexpectedly breaks us from our routines. In a small way it puts us in an altered state of consciousness, which lowers the heart rate and allows for reflection. Public art is another way that Big Sky connects. When it comes to the arts, says Katie Alvin, Development Director of Arts Council of Big Sky, “we could be like every other resort town, but we don’t have to be.” In Big Sky, artwork doesn’t just exist in galleries, it’s woven into the fabric of the community. Here, stakeholders believe that art builds communities. Montana, in their world view, has the potential to become an arts destination, like Vail, Colorado, or Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Winter by Deborah Butterfield

In October of 2018, Big Sky became the first location in Montana to install an outdoor sculpture, Winter, by renowned Montana artist Deborah Butterfield. The recipient of multiple awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and Guggenheim, Butterfield began crafting horse sculptures out of primitive mixed-media materials in the 1970s. Her love for the equine form has resulted in gallery showings across the country and her work has graced museums like The Whitney, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution. Made in Butterfield’s Montana studio, Winter was created using driftwood gathered along the banks of the Gallatin, Yellowstone, and Madison rivers, then cast in bronze and patinaed to withstand the elements. Photograph courtesy of Arts Council of Big Sky

Beyond the economic value of art, its primary benefit is in improving the lives of residents, employees, and tourists. By showcasing the work of regional and local artists, public art, says Jesine Munson, Public Art and Outreach Coordinator for Arts Council of Big Sky, lets artists and citizens engage in conversations about Big Sky’s past, present, and future.

To The Skyland by Brad Rude

Having lived most of his life amidst the serene beauty of the Northwest, Brad Rude’s art pays homage to the natural world that surrounds his Walla Walla studio and home. From dogs to rhinos, Rude’s sculptures often challenge viewers to see the animal world in unconventional terms. Brad’s sculpture, To The Skyland, depicts a lone wolf, alert and in motion, as it leans forward into an unknown future assisted by red wheels and a walking stick. Look for the final To The Skyland across from Town Center Plaza in 2024. Photograph by Nathan Peterson

But public art doesn’t happen without private support. In Big Sky, the arts community forged partnerships to achieve its goals. As Big Sky’s largest property owner, Lone Mountain Land Company has emerged as a key proponent for marrying art and development. “They’ve engaged the community,” says Alvin. “Lone Mountain Land Company’s shared vision of a dedicated art corridor ensures locals and visitors see not only Big Sky’s physical beauty, but its cultural history, too.”

“Lone Mountain Land Company’s shared vision of a dedicated art corridor ensures locals and visitors see not only Big Sky’s physical beauty, but its cultural history, too.” -Katie Alvin, Development Director for Arts Council of Big Sky

Today, the curated public art installments in Big Sky equate to more than $1 million in artwork acquired by citizens through community campaigns, or secured through private donations by individuals and businesses. Big Sky now boasts 11 outdoor sculptures that reflect an eclectic mix of contemporary and natural themes. The Arts Council hopes people will stumble across sculptures—and pause to reflect.

Lightning by Linda Fleming

From Vermont to California, Fleming’s work has created
a “space lace” that defies linear structure and norms. “My works hint at the co-existence of the mundane and the cosmological where two realities exist including the possibility that the past is also the present,” Fleming writes. “The structures are diagrams of thought that provide a glimpse of the strangeness beyond the everyday world; opening a place where thought becomes tangible, history leaves a trace, and information exhales form.” Located at the BASE Community Center, Lightning serves as a memorial to Anne Buchanan and other lives lived and lost. Photograph by Nathan Peterson

Big Sky now boasts 11 outdoor structures that reflect an eclectic mix of contemporary and natural themes.

Combined with the Arts Council’s renewed emphasis on education, interactive maps now make it easy to learn about the artists and selection process.

The goal, says Munson, is to “select engaging art that is different, that is interactive, that makes people think.”

“The goal is to select engaging art that is different, that is interactive, that makes people think.” -Jesine Munson, Public Art & Outreach Coordinator for Arts Council of Big Sky

Gibbous by Pedro S. De Movellán

There’s nothing static about Big Sky, the air, light, and seasons constantly shape-shift. It’s no surprise, then, that kinetic sculptor Pedro S. De Movellán’s work, Gibbous, was selected by the Arts Council of Big Sky to grace the roundabout on Huntley Drive and Town Center Avenue. A towering sculpture made of natural hardcoat anodized aluminum, stainless steel, and painted with a bright orange automobile paint, the work’s spherical shapes and movement mirror a gibbous moon fluctuating between half full and full. According to the Davidson Gallery that represents De Movellán, his ability to harness motion through air and wind gives his work a unique and ever-changing dynamic. Photograph by Nathan Peterson

Expect to see more such work soon. Artist Brad Rude’s accessible and engaging bronze sculpture, To The Skyland, will be installed on a walking path across from Town Center Plaza in 2024. A collaboration with the Gallatin River Task Force will result in a water education mural in the newly opened Pedestrian Tunnel. The work will both celebrate the importance of Big Sky’s waterways to the physical and mental health of the community, and at the same time interpret the river as impressionistic artwork. Meanwhile, future Pollinator Pathway gardens will connect art installations while also showcasing native species.

For more information about upcoming installations and art collaborations visit: bigskyarts.org.

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