Prep work begins for ‘art alley’ in downtown Billings

Art alley

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Sherwin-Williams employees, including Rob Walla, center in blue, get ready to prime the walls in an alley between First and Second avenues north Friday. It will soon become an “art alley.”

Work began Friday on an “alley art” project that will enliven a canyon of asphalt, steel and brick in downtown Billings.

The project is a partnership between property owners, the Downtown Billings Association, Sherwin-Williams and Underground Culture Krew, an art gallery at 2814 Third Ave. N.

Natasha Potratz, event coordinator for the DBA, said the association’s Public Art Committee, which had already sponsored murals and the wrapping of traffic signal boxes with artwork, was looking for more opportunities. Bill MacIntyre, owner of Pug Mahon’s Irish Pub 3011 First Ave. N., had been talking about making the alley alongside his business into an “art alley,” which he’d seen in other cities.

Then Sherwin-Williams, the paint company, asked the DBA if it had any projects the company could get involved in as part of its annual, nationwide effort to help out in the communities it serves.

“It kind of all came together,” Potratz said.

And that’s what brought Rob Walla, commercial market manager for Sherwin-Williams in Billings, and half a dozen other Sherwin-Williams employees, to the alley between the 3200 blocks of First and Second avenues north Friday afternoon.

The DBA’s Purple People crew cleaned up the alley Thursday, and on Friday the paint company workers were starting the process of coating the walls on both sides of the alley with gray base coat primer.

If they get done this weekend—the brickwork was still a bit soggy from the recent heavy rains—a mass of artists organized by the Underground Culture Krew will gather early next week and begin creating the artwork that will cover the walls.

Underground Culture Krew is known for its aerosol painters and graffiti artists, but Tyson Middle, who co-owns the gallery with his mother, Jackie Cheatham, said the project will be opened to artists of all kinds, including muralists and brush painters. Middle, who also serves on the Public Art Committee, said that after the alley fills up with art, it will be opened to the public and artists will be invited to add to the existing art, paint over it, whatever they want.

“You’ll see a constant rotation of art,” he said.

Or, as Walla put it, “It’s going to be a living wall. It’s not like they’re going to do this once.”

Middle said he and the business owners will be monitoring the alley, and if anything offensive is added it will be covered up immediately. But he doesn’t see that happening much, pointing to the successful aerosol murals and paintings that have gone up in other areas of town. One is in an alley just two blocks from Pug’s on First Avenue North, and in a little more than a year no one has defaced the artwork or added anything offensive, he said.


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

In an alley on the 3200 block of First Avenue North, property owner Kee Dunning allowed artists from the Underground Culture Krew to create an aerosol painting.

All the buildings on the east side of the alley, including the Pug Mahon’s buildings, will be a canvas for public art, but on the west side, the art will be confined to the Good Earth Market building. The rest of the property on that side of the alley is in the midst of a buy-sell agreement, Walla said.

MacIntyre, the owner of Pug’s, said he was excited about the project. If it’s successful, he said, he might revive an event he sponsored back in the 1980s—“dumpster dances.”

He said they’d push the dumpsters to form barricades on either end of the alley, then have dances with live music.

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