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City unveils art project from Billings artist and McKinley Elementary students

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Posted at 8:08 PM, May 20, 2024

BILLINGS — It's hard to miss the new nine-foot art installation in front of McKinley Elementary School in Billings, but that's the point. Made by one Billings artist with the help of McKinley students, the city hopes it will not only beautify the community but make its streets safer.

“I was not expecting this. Our school is finally represented in some place. I’m just really happy,” said McKinley Elementary student 11-year-old Amaris James on Monday.

A piece of James will now forever be a part of the neighborhood with the city's latest art installation "Funky Frames".

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11-year-old Amaris James

“I mostly just did small little scribbles. I didn’t think it would actually come out to be actual art,” James added.

She was one of dozens of elementary school students who helped the city of Billings 2023 Artist in Residence Terri Porta create the hot pink piece.

“I asked them to please just bring their creative expression to the piece and think about color, think about how color can bring something alive,” said Porta.

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Billings 2023 Artist in Residence Terri Porta

"Funky Frames" is Porta's second art piece enacted in Billings as part of the Mobilize the Magic City project. The city works with a local artist for a year to "involve art and artists in everyday civic life."

Both installations are located along the city's first neighborhood bike way. Porta's first piece sits by 10th Street West and Avenue D.

“Get more people out using the neighborhood bike way. Hopefully calm traffic, slow traffic down as people see the art and are like, oh, I’m in neighborhood. I should slow down,” said Elyse Monat, the city's active transportation planner.

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Elyse Monat, Billings Active Transportation Planner

The project is funded partly through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and donations. The Billings Arts Association, Healthy by Design Coalition, TRIAA, Porta, and the city collaborated to make this happen.

“Where there may have been a lot of graffiti previously, if a sculpture or a mural goes in that those efforts around graffiti actually go down. They pretty much stop,” said Amy Queen, community improvement manager for Healthy By Design.

The city hopes to inspire its citizens by incorporating their ideas and work. "Funky Frames" features quotes from local artists at the base of the installation.

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Amy Queen, Community Improvement Manager of Healthy By Design Coaltion

“I think we just need to focus on the local element here because these are the local kids. I’m a local and the quotes should be local,” Porta added.

It's a full-circle moment for Porta, a Billings native.

“There are people that just as a community got together and they surrounded me with so much love and encouragement and support that I felt supported, and that was something that was gigantic,” said Porta.

McKinley Elementary students will get to see their work of art each time they go to school.

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"Funky Frames"

“My mom drops me off like almost every single day and for the last eight days, she’s going to be seeing that every time she looks over there,” James said.

The city will unveil a third art installation by artist Mariah Gladstone in the future. Gladstone will be installing two sculptures in the boulevard at 7th Avenue North. and North 22nd Street next to North Park.