Nonprofits Collaborate for Tunnel Art

Rails-to-Trails of Northwest Montana and KALICO Art Center are working together to paint three murals on the trail's tunnels

By Maggie Dresser
The Great Northern Historical Trail near Kila. Beacon File Photo

The Great Northern Historical Trail will have murals at the entrances of two pedestrian tunnels next summer and a third in 2022, thanks to a collaborative effort called the “Tunnel Vision” project between nonprofits Rails-to-Trails of Northwest Montana and KALICO Art Center.

Murals at the Kidsports/Flathead Valley Community College and Glacier High School tunnels are scheduled to begin in 2021 while the Kalispell Bypass tunnel will be completed the following summer, once art proposals are selected.

“Our main focus is to enhance the experience people have on the trail by adding some nice street art on those locations,” said Kip Smith of Rails-to-Trails of Northwest Montana. “The secondary piece is to try and discourage some of the vandalism that has periodically showed up in those locations by creating nice murals.”

While there’s some concern from community members that the murals will be vandalized, President and Founder of KALICO Alisha Schilling argues that vandalism usually only happens on blank walls.

“When you make a space for a mural, it sends a message that this is a place we care about it,” Schilling said. “Historically, the data says if there’s a blank wall, it’s going to be hit, but once you put a mural up, it takes away that space.”

Rails-to-Trails has collaborated with KALICO Art Center, a nonprofit community art program in Kalispell, to facilitate the murals and provide workshops at Flathead High School, Glacier High School, Linderman Education Center, Flathead Valley Community College and KALICO. The workshops are designed to educate students about street art and how they can get involved.

Adam Schilling, a local art teacher, will lead the workshops and educate students about the history of street art, some basic techniques and how they can get paid to do street art in their community.

“We have a lot of self-employed creative makers in our state and here’s an opportunity to make money doing what they love to do and give back to our community in public art,” Alisha said. “It makes our spaces vibrant and goes back to the intention that we care about this community.”

A free, open-to-the-public workshop will be offered at KALICO in January, while workshops at schools will be offered in February, following a call for art proposals from Flathead County residents from Feb. 17 to March 17. At the end of March, a committee will review the proposals and select winners for each mural, which are scheduled for completion in summer 2021 and 2022.

“The call for art is going to be really clear,” Smith said. “These are to be family friendly and take a positive approach to whatever will be painted. We really wanted to leave it up to the creativity of the artist to come up with ideas.”

Smith is still working to raise funds for the project, which has a $500 budget for workshops and a $2,500 budget for the murals. To donate, contact Kip Smith at (406) 871-6139.

For more information about Rails-to-Trails, visit www.railstotrailsofnwmt.com.

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