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Great Falls ArtsFest brings murals to the city

Great Falls high school student Keeley Running Crane conducts an interview during a Montana Media Lab workshop.
Montana Media Lab
Great Falls high school student Keeley Running Crane conducts an interview during a Montana Media Lab workshop.

Tana Murray is a mural artist from Great Falls, Montana. She stands in an alley downtown with five vibrant murals painted on the building behind her. She made one of them.

“It just says ‘Welcome to Great Falls, Montana,'" Murray says. "And then I'm surrounded by four other artists who participated in ArtsFest."

ArtsFest is an annual art festival in Great Falls. During the event artists from around the state, the country and the world paint murals onto the sides of downtown buildings. Twenty-four murals have been painted since the festival was first held in 2019.

Murray painted her first mural last year.

“It definitely feels great,” Murray said. “It's a lot of hard work, and it's a lot of work on your body. But it's just so rewarding.”

Murray thinks the murals have made the city more inviting.

“There's definitely a lot more foot traffic and you know, people just downtown exploring the space. They don't necessarily just go from point A to point B,” Murray said.

Joan Redeen is the Community Director for the Great Falls Business Improvement District. She says since the murals were installed, people spend time in parts of the city they used to overlook.

“We have individuals who are down there taking senior pictures and engagement photos," Redeen said. "And on the weekends you’ll see a family walking through with a stroller and taking a look at the artwork."

The Business Improvement District, a taxpayer-funded committee under the City Commission, organizes and sponsors ArtsFest. Redeen says the group works to beautify the city.

“Anything we can do to improve what downtown looks like, that's what we're tasked with,” she said.

Sarah Justice, director of Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in Great Falls, says she thinks adding art is a good way to beautify urban spaces.

“We have a lot of historical buildings that when you add these colors and this imagery, it makes people stop and pause, maybe hang out downtown a little longer and want to shop in the businesses,” she said.

Ryan Connell is a business owner in the downtown area. His store sits across from one of the multicolored murals.

“I think it's all positive,” Connell said. “I think it creates more of a destination where people then have an excuse to drive around town, check out different businesses, see the different murals. And I think it definitely creates pride in the community because it's pretty.”

Ten artists have signed up to paint murals at the festival this year. The event is planned for Aug. 12-19. Members of the public can learn how to paint a mural at an ArtsFest workshop. Murray says the workshop is a good way for artists to learn a new creative form.

“I definitely encourage them just to apply for ArtsFest, because that's what I did,” Murray said. “And here I am, I got my own mural.”

This story was reported by C. M. Russell High School student Keeley Running Crane during a Montana Media Lab workshop. The Montana Media Lab is located at the University of Montana School of Journalism.