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SPEARFISH | What began as a community project to bring art to a few fences in this town has exploded into a colorful collaboration involving hundreds of children, adult volunteers, a university and professional artists.

Funded through a grant from the Bush Foundation, ArtCentral’s “Connecting Our Community Through Linking Fences” is bringing Spearfish residents together, young and old, with the concept of individual and group creativity, education into Native American culture, and a sense of camaraderie that appears contagious.

“This is really about art in the community and of the community,” ArtCentral Manager Elizabeth Freer said last week. “We now have art in so many public places. Whether it’s a kid at a rec center program or someone walking their dog at a city park, they are encountering art and hopefully engaging with it.”

Hundreds of Spearfish preschoolers to elementary students already have become engaged, bringing their unique and youthful passion to projects that have sprung up all over town.

A dozen preschoolers at Kid Konnection helped create a depiction of Bear Butte, one of four panels being installed on a prominent fence line at the Spearfish Recreation & Aquatic Center on the city’s north side. Along the way, the youngsters learned about the creation of Mato Paha from the Native American perspective of artist Cary Thrall, a Lakota woman who developed a lesson plan about Bear Butte that kept the preschoolers engaged for more than an hour.

Other panels at the popular recreation center, where Thrall was working in 95-degree heat Friday afternoon, will depict Devils Tower and nearby Crow Peak and Lookout Mountain, she said.

Another fence featuring art involved community volunteers and local Girl Scouts and may be found on the tennis court at City Park, parallel to Canyon Street. Dubbed “Jazz: Homage to Matisse,” and created by local artist Jo Powell, the colorful tribute incorporates large painted figures and shapes that honor Matisse’s jazz series paintings.

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Still another installation titled, “Linking the Past to the Present to the Future,” added a colorful creation depicting a buffalo and eagle on a Spearfish basketball court fence near State and Elgin streets. Designed by artist Charla Stickland, the work was aided by volunteers from Black Hills State University — including some from other countries — as well as some local school children.

BHSU art professor Michael Baum enlisted his design class to create a colorful conglomeration on a fence line across from Spearfish City Hall. The installation, which blocks an eyesore, likely will be updated each year by university students, Freer said.

More than 70 fish were painted by Creekside Elementary School and GEAR UP students in June, and now adorn a fence at the school. Girl Scouts installed a flag-themed fence at the local VFW in honor of Flag Day and the Fourth of July, while the local Rotary Club is planning a fence project for the United Methodist Church and the library’s summer reading program attendees are working on a fence at the city’s dog park, Freer noted.

A bike tour of all the Spearfish installations is being planned for late August or early September, she said.

“It’s been so successful,” Freer said of the Linking Fences project. “People are engaging in art, in conversations, the city has been supportive, and it’s strengthening the fabric of our community.

"There’s really no downside and, in the end, this actually brings more support for the arts to the entire Black Hills region.”

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