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By McKenzie Kramer
Ever since the very first issue of Visit McCall Magazine, there has been one elusive story I’ve wanted to feature. Every year when we map out the editorial content and plan for upcoming magazines, the city bus shelters always top the list.
For whatever reason, our timing has ALWAYS been off: The artwork will be suddenly swapped out, and another opportunity to tell this beautiful story is missed.
But not this year! I learned this was a year for updating the bus stop artwork in that magical small-town way where a casual conversation with neighbors led to a chance mention about art class and a project for school that would end up getting printed on the bus shelters. Boom. This was the chance I had been waiting for – a chance to not just write about the finished product, but actually watch a bit of the process unfold.
I had always known that McCall’s five bus shelters were designed by students. What I didn’t fully understand was the immense amount of planning, collaboration, and time it takes to get each print finalized and installed and the team of supportive and enthusiastic people who make it all happen. As part of the City of McCall’s “Hometown Art” initiative, the bus shelters, along with the murals that line Railroad Avenue, are spearheaded by some amazing teachers at our local public schools who act as guides for the students designing the finished product.
How the Art Got Its Start
The first formal public art program in the City of McCall came with the inception of the Hometown Art initiative. With the creation of the Public Art Advisory Committee in 2012, the stage was set for a collaboration. “One of the first opportunities we identified was the bus shelters,” says Delta James, City of McCall Economic Development Planner and Liaison to the Public Art Advisory Committee. The project brought in participation from the local schools to create the artwork and facilitate art education programming at all grade levels.
“The first year, we worked with several elementary classes in different grade levels and sent high school students to mentor the littler kids,” says Cynthia Dittmer, Art Techer at McCall-Donnelly High School. “We had them create art, but also had them write about what they were creating. At the end of the school year, we hosted an art show and chose the best of the work to photograph and turn into the final bus shelter artwork.”
That was year one. Since then, the program has flexed and adapted while continuing to bring unique artwork to the community. Five bus shelters are updated every four years while the murals on Railroad Avenue, which are also part of the overall Hometown Art program, are updated every two years.
The process to update the artwork is no small feat. With hundreds of hours of collaboration and design between Barbara Morgan Elementary, Payette Lakes Middle School, and McCall-Donnelly High School students, plus coordination with the City of McCall and Rocky Mountain Signs to print the final pieces, there are a lot of moving parts. But the hardest part? Finding a theme.
“The overarching theme of the entire program is ‘Hometown Art,’” says Dittmer, “but that provides a lot of flexibility for individual teachers and students to interpret that theme.” This year, the elementary school worked with a backpacking theme, the middle school chose to highlight McCall icons and what their community means to them, while the high school worked to create visual representations of mental wellness.
Art in Action
I had the opportunity to visit two classes as they worked on the final artwork pieces for the bus shelters – a middle school class and the advanced art class at the high school.
The middle school art classes chose to work their theme of community into a Mandala design with icons representing the things they love the most about McCall. “We want to celebrate everyone’s voices,” says Jared Hopkins, Art Teacher at Payette Lakes Middle School. “Every artist has to be represented in the final product.” To design the Mandalas, each student contributed two pieces that were then incorporated into the finished arrangement.
On the day I visited, students were working on the first iteration of their final Mandala design as a class. As with many group settings, it started slow, with lots of encouragement and a few suggestions from Mr. Hopkins. Once a few pieces were placed on the board, the creativity started flowing and each student had a turn trying different placements and arrangements. “It is all about balancing shapes, sizes, color tones, and imagery,” says Hopkins. I left class that day impressed with not just the artwork, but also the collaborative approach and the thoughtful placement given to each piece to create the final design.
At the high school, the same thoughtfulness was on display as students worked to complete two different elements that would combine together on a single, unified bus shelter design. All of the pieces reflect their chosen theme of mental wellness, something McKeeley Meske, a senior at McCall-Donnelly High School and project contributor, says was important to the entire class. “With last year and the things the community went through it was something we really wanted to talk about and highlight,” she says.
The first part of the design features puzzle pieces that fit together to show positivity. Each student chose something uplifting to their own mental health or the health of others and carved that design into a rubber block. They then rolled the blocks with ink and stamped the images onto puzzle pieces. The prints were then scanned and cleaned up in Photoshop by the computer science class (another great collaboration!).
The second part of the design drew inspiration from artist Chip Thomas and used people with words painted across their backs and along their arms. The painted subjects were then photographed and isolated to a transparent background. Ultimately, this section of the final installation was overlaid on a colorful background that allows light to come through around the images. “The idea is really to show relationships and support with these central images and then the puzzle pieces fit around them on the side panels of the bus shelters,” says Dittmer of the concept.
And the finished product is something wholly unique. This year, four bus shelters were reprinted with artwork that will showcase the talent of our community for the next several years. Along with the unique artwork, “this project really helps build community and articulate what is unique about our community,” says James. “It is one of those things that is really visible to residents and visitors that defines ‘us’ as a town which is why the theme of ‘Hometown Arts’ fits so well.”
Tour McCall’s Public Art
The Hometown Art project is just one of many public art efforts underway in McCall. Explore all of the public art installations that celebrate our unique community:
For a map of McCall’s public art, visit https://www.mccall.id.us/public-art