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Artists Transform Old Warehouse Slated For Demolition In Bozeman

Chris Fraser's installation in progress for Tinworks Art in Bozeman, July 2019.
Courtesy of Chris Fraser
Chris Fraser's installation in progress for Tinworks Art in Bozeman, July 2019.

With an old warehouse slated to be torn down in Bozeman’s historic northeastern neighborhood, a temporary, pop-up art installation aims to celebrate the space and test whether Bozeman would support a permanent art museum.

Across the street from a new hair salon and condos, overgrown shrubs and an old chain link fence wrap around Tinworks Warehouse. Its steel sides look like acid-washed jeans. 

Chris Fraser, an Oakland-based artist, is waiting at the entrance as it starts to rain.

Rachel Cramer: Shall we walk into the space and see?

Chris Fraser: Yeah, let’s do it.

RC: Wow, it looks like the night sky. 

Fraser and his team of assistants spent several weeks drilling about 10,000 tiny holes in the roof of one of the rooms. The light from the cloudy sky outside has transformed it into a dizzying constellation. 

“When you start walking through, the rafters above actually start to flick the individual pinholes on and off and it starts to feel like everything’s twinkling up there,” says Fraser.

The experience is completely different when it’s sunny. The pinholes project images from the sky outside onto the floor and walls, and it changes depending on the time of day and weather.

Fraser is one of four visual artists and three performance artists selected for Tinworks Art, a pop-up art installation at the warehouse. It’s free and open to the public, Fridays and Saturdays until August 17th. 

“Usually you do an exhibition, and the people putting on the show expect you to put the space back together when you’re finished. And there’s absolutely no way I could do that here. It’s kind of fun knowing that the last life of a building is sort of, passes through me. It’s an honor,” Fraser says.

The building will be torn down this fall to make way for a new multi-use development with housing, office and retail space, artist studios and parking. It represents what some locals call gentrification and others call opportunity in a neighborhood that used to be considered the blue-collar side of Bozeman

Eli Ridgway is a trustee with Story Mill Art, the non-profit that organized Tinworks Art.

“Our goal is to provide contemporary art experiences in unexpected spaces and older spaces," says Ridgway. "I think there’s something really powerful and beautiful about those opportunities.”

Ridgway says Tinworks used to house metal-working and roofing companies. During World War II, it stored metal collected for the war effort. He says this pop-up art installation is a way to celebrate the space and bring art to the public. 

Billings, Missoula, Helena, Kalispell, Miles City and Great Falls all have art museums, and Story Mill Art thinks Bozeman is ready for one, as well. Ridgway says his organization has been looking for an appropriate space in the northeastern neighborhood.

“It’s a value of ours to rehabilitate older spaces so we wouldn’t want to buy an empty property on the outside of town. We’d really like to find an older structure to work with and rehab and embrace the character that comes with a space like that,” says Ridgway.

Story Mill Art had identified a historic flour mill that went out of operation in the 1960s as a possibility, but a spokesperson said cost-wise, it doesn’t make sense right now.

The organization will try to figure out next steps for the art museum after Tinworks Art wraps up mid-August.