Public art can be found around every corner in downtown Missoula.
Written by Lauren Hillestad
Missoula is an undoubtedly creative community, and the evidence is all around us. Public art decorates everything from back alleys to crosswalks and electric boxes, local breweries and coffee shops line their walls with local art for sale, and institutions like the University of Montana and Missoula Art Museum set the stage for a rich and growing arts scene. And this mountain town isn't just recognized by art-loving locals—we're making waves across the country. Missoula scored a spot in the National Center for Arts Research 2017 and 2018 lists of Top 40 Vibrant Arts Communities, and was recently highlighted in Forbes Magazine as "your next artistic adventure off the beaten path." The article's author, Chadd Scott, focuses on the intersection of art and travel—our sweet spot.
The Forbes article reflects on the history of Missoula's now iconic art scene, and the artists who were instrumental in bringing it to life. Rudy Autio (1926-2007) is one of those artists. He was one of the most influential artists in the American ceramics movement, and went on to launch the University of Montana's internationally acclaimed ceramics program in 1957. His work as an artist and an educator left a lasting impact on our city, however; "Autio factors not only into Missoula’s artistic past, but it’s future as well." The articles goes on to announce an exciting new exhibit, and all of the building blocks that made it possible:
When Missoula’s Radius Gallery moves into its new building in January of 2020, it will debut with its second floor devoted to an Autio exhibit. Lisa Simon, co-owner of Radius Gallery, wouldn’t have it any other way.
Her commitment to honoring Missoula’s artistic past while shaping its future extends beyond her own business. Simon curated the contemporary art program for the Residence Inn by Marriott which opened earlier in 2019 on real estate once occupied by Missoula’s Mercantile department store.
While the original building from the early 1800s could not be saved, Simon, along with the property’s developer, designer and Marriott, prioritized constructing the new hotel with an authentic, historic, Missoula soul.
Doing so through a locally focused art program was unprecedented for Marriott. Decorative details throughout the property give the hotel a feeling simultaneously fresh, while rooted in the past.
The new Mercantile building is decorated with contemporary art.
Missoula's dedication to the arts and authenticity shines through in the new Mercantile building, and throughout the city as a whole. The University of Montana supplies our community with innovators and artists, and "almost every day in Missoula you’ll find a speaker, reading, concert, live music set, play or performance to pop in on." Missoula houses the state’s largest art collection at the Montana Museum of Art & Culture on campus, while the Missoula Art Museum downtown is "emerging as the leading contemporary art museum in the Intermountain West."
You don't have to be an art connoisseur to immerse yourself in Missoula's art scene—just find your way to our eclectic town, and art will find its way to you.
The Missoula Art Museum offers free admission, so visitors can explore anytime.