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Creative placemaking project brings color to Rodney Street

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Rodney St. Murals

Griffin Foster works on a mural of flowers on the side of the probation and parole office off Rodney Street last week.

Sophia Mathis’ grandmother grew up on Rodney Street. 

Now, years later, Mathis is working with The Myrna Loy, a Helena-based community art center, to produce a mural in her grandma’s old stomping grounds. Each day, a blue crane hoists Mathis up outside Jesters Bar to paint two peacocks on the building's side. 

“I’ve gotten a lot of compliments, especially from the peanut gallery,” Mathis said. “That’s what we’ve started calling the smoking area at the bar. They have a really good view of me up on the crane.”

Rodney St. Murals

Sophia Mathis works on a mural of a pair of peacocks on the side of Jesters Bar last week.

Another artist, Griffin Foster, is painting a mural of flowers on the side of the probation and parole office. That office is also located on Rodney Street.  

Mathis' and Foster’s work is part of a creative placemaking project run by The Myrna Loy. Their art was selected in a call for artists The Myrna Loy put out around a year ago, said Executive Director Krys Holmes. The project is called “Rodney Street Is…” 

According to The Myrna Loy’s website, the project is “an artist-led exploration of the unique creative and historic identity of our Rodney street neighborhood.” 

Rodney St. Murals

Mathis’ design – the peacocks – symbolizes pride and strength.

The artists in residence leading the project include Amanda Reese, who’s become the facilitator for the murals. Reese arrived at The Myrna Loy in January 2021 to start the project. In 10-degree weather, Reese said the project kicked off in February 2021. She and her fellow artists in residence distributed a survey in the Rodney Street neighborhood. 

The survey asked questions about what Rodney Street meant to people that live there, and what pieces of it they wanted to share with the rest of Helena. 

Reese said the results overwhelmingly showed the history and culture of Rodney Street were important to its residents. So, artists, including those working on the murals, have tried to reflect that.

Rodney St. Murals

Griffin Foster works on a mural of flowers on the side of the porbation and parole off Rodney St. last week.

“Rodney Street is still a little rough around the edges, so our murals should be too,” Reese said. 

Over the last year and a half, the project has resulted in art installations all over Rodney Street, from revamping planters and benches to re-doing the front of the Livery Building. The murals are another piece of the project’s efforts. 

“One of the most meaningful things about this neighborhood is that there’s room for everybody,” Reese said. She added that’s what’s special about the murals – they’re visible and accessible for anybody walking past them. 

Rodney St. Murals

Sophia Mathis works on a mural of a pair of peacocks on the side of Jesters Bar last week.

Mathis’ design – the peacocks – symbolizes pride and strength, Reese said. And Foster’s, an intricate piece with flora from around the Helena area, was inspired by his own site research. Reese said he spent a lot of time hiking Mount Helena before he submitted his design. 

Holmes, the executive director of The Myrna Loy, said without the supportive community and business owners, the project wouldn’t have been possible. 

Rodney St. Murals-front

Foster's completed mural on Rodney St. earlier this week.

Holmes added the project gave The Myrna Loy a chance to showcase its motto that, “Art transforms everything.” In the Rodney Street area, it has, Holmes said. 

“Now, instead of seeing blank spots, people will see a canvas,” Holmes said. 

For more information and continued updates on the murals’ progress, you can visit the project’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/rodneystreetis/.

Rodney St. Murals

Foster hauls an armful of spray paint up on scaffolding while working on the mural last week.

Mariah Thomas can be reached at mariah.thomas@helenair.com

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University of Montana student and reporting intern for the Helena Independent Record and Montana State News Bureau

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