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'Going to be epic': Art lovers work to bring first ever mural festival to Billings

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Posted at 10:49 AM, May 29, 2024

BILLINGS — Come September, the blank walls behind businesses like Thirsty Street Brewing and Red Oxx Manufacturing Inc. will be covered in color. The two businesses are one of at least 25 across Billings that will be getting a face lift in the form of a mural.

It's part of the first-ever Billings mural festival put together by two different organizations hoping to promote creativity and safety with Wild West Walls.

You might not know Tyson Middle or his community-focused art supply shop, Underground Culture Krew, but you've probably seen his work.

“It started out as, 'We want to paint walls, we want to tackle Billings', and it was like, 'ERRRR, you want to what?' It was pretty out there; graffiti, spray paint,” Middle said recently at his shop.

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Tyson Middle works on a drawing at Underground Culture Krew

He's been creating murals across Billings since he started his business with his mom 11 years ago. From the Billings YMCA to the West End Tunnel, skaters even learn tricks on his art at the Billings Skate Park.

“We got in a lot with the Rescue Mission and a lot with kind of nonprofits and doing a lot of stuff with the youth and community,” Middle said.

He's had pretty big dreams since his business began.

“I’m like, yeah, we’re going to throw a mural fest within the first year or two of us being open. It’s going to be epic. And here we are 11 years later,” said Middle.

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The Billings YMCA

With the help of the Billings Industrial Revitalization District's Executive Director Michelle Harkins, Billings will have its first mural festival in September.

After a recent trip to New Orleans, Harkins has seen the effect murals have had on its community.

“They just had an influx of murals over the last few years that has really brought life and spirit back into the city," said Harkins.

A colleague introduced the two art lovers and they went to work on Wild West Walls right away.

“Currently we have 25 properties signed up. Those are all own properties here in the EBURD and they’ll each be getting a mural,” Harkins said.

Whether it's the whole side of a warehouse or a 10 by 15-foot wall, the public will get to witness the artists create their respective murals in real time between Sept. 5 and Sept. 8.

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Michelle Harkins of BIRD

“We’ll be having events all through the EBURD. We’ll be having music, food trucks, pop-up markets,” added Harkins.

Festival goers will be able to meet the minds behind the murals at the 406 Lawn in the EBURD district, or join in on the creativity by participating in live painting sessions.

However, it's more than just beautifying the community with a free event.

“By bringing all this artwork in, it really decreases the amount of graffiti we’ll see but it also will bring more people to the EBURD to see what we have to offer,” Harkins said.

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It's a dream come true for both Harkins and Middle.

“When people come down here and see that, it’s really going to make them want to come back,” said Harkins.

“Some of these guys that are submitting are doing some really cool stuff and it’s going to be a little different to Billings which I think we’re ready for and I think it’s really cool,” Middle added.

All of the artists will be paid for their time and supplied with meals and art supplies. BIRD and Underground Culture Krew are still looking for sponsors, as well as their title sponsor.

If you're interested in being a part of Wild West Walls, or being a sponsor, email Harkins at MICHELLE@BILLINGSBIRD.COM.